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Channel Length, Parasites and Global Warming - will we make the same mistakes with our native bee species?

The following post is aimed at people in northern parts of North America but if anyone cares to comment, feel free. I'd like people from northern Washington and B.C. to participate and see if collectively, we could see if there is something to be learned from our observations.

Having looked at the linear, unbroken (no intercalary cells showing usurpation), line of cells produced by single females, I have deduced from this that they live 3-4 weeks, minimum. A contact of mine in Cumberland, B.C., central Vancouver Island, (49°40'N, 125°00'W), stated that he had one female marked who lived 5-6 weeks? This is quite interesting and flies in the face of those in the bee world who profess to claim that they do not live past 2 1/2 weeks and only lay 2-4 females and 5-8 males in their life-span! (Bosch and Kemp, 2001). Phil Torchio and Vince Tepedino also have done research out of Utah concerning Osmia, and they claim that the nesting channels should not go past ~6" (15cm) as this is the most efficient length (Torchio and Tepedino, 1980). In my research, I found that I could push the bees to 40cm but statistically, the most efficient length for producing female offspring was 29cm. I have since contacted (name removed), and he gave me pretty much the same response as before when I was producing a scientific paper on my findings - not much help! Essentially, he was being vague and of limited communication and saying something about being in a different location etc., etc., and maybe that's why my findings were out of the norm. If it is to do with location, I'd like to investigate this.

Now onto the question of parasites, cleptoparasites, and parasitoids, which I'm going to assume you know what I'm talking about. I will not comment on casual visitors that visit nesting sites out of a behaviour of "opportunistic-ism", but instead stay to direct, almost co-evolved ones. Examples of opportunistic parasites would be dermestid beetles, Vespulid wasps, ants etc. My collection of parasites is mainly reduced to the Chaetodactylus mite, and that's about it. Parasitoids however, (and I'm not included chalkbrood mould) include Monodontomerus, Ichneumonidae and Leucospis wasps, as I've actually witnessed them in and flying around my condos, but have also extracted them within cells and cocoons when I clean my condos. What is missing, are a plethora of others that have been documented by researchers, of which I'm either not aware of, or having yet witnessed for myself. This is something I was hoping you could assist on, and something we could all learn from.

Several other parasites and parasitoids have been documented in the literature, and I have yet to fully prove to myself that they are in fact, inhabiting my bee condos (Bosch and Kemp, 2001; Krombein, 1967). These include Chrysura spp. and Sapygid spp. wasps, the cuckoo bee Stelis montana, which looks like Osmia only smaller, Tricrania stansburyi (Meloidae beetle), Trichodes ornata the Clerid beetle, Ptinus californicus the Spider beetle, and finally, the Tribolium spp. or Flour beetles. This might be a matter of different locales as the literature has all come out of Utah, Idaho and other south western states in the U.S. I have yet to see any of these in my collection here on Vancouver Island, but with the influx of so-called commercial bee sellers shipping cocoons around, plus with global warming, and combining with that we humans essentially producing a large monoculture of pollinators such as Osmia, sometimes in a relatively confined area, I'm predicting that some of these organisms will start to either show up, or perhaps they're already here and their numbers will increase. I'd like to start documenting this now and see if this comes to fruition. So far, this year has really been moist in our parts and I fear that it might be a bad one to try and document these things, but I'd like to give it a try anyways.

Therefore, I was wondering if we could exchange some of our findings regarding channel length, individual bee life-span, parasitism etc. and see what trends happen. I hope I'm wrong, but the way we have fooled around with honey bees and other similar practices in agriculture, I think I'm on to something. This topic would be lost on most people, but I hope those of you who are keen on research and learning about the overall health of one of our important 2nd string bee pollinators, could discuss these findings for everyone to benefit. If you care to contact me directly, that's fine too.

Gord Hutchings [email protected]
Victoria, B.C.
 

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Gord, you've brought up a lot of interesting topics here and I'll try to address a few of them at this time. Let me say first that I live about 3 miles from the USDA ARS Bee Lab in Logan, Utah, and I personally know Bosch, Kemp, and Torchio. Incidentally, none of those scientists live in Utah anymore. I also knew a good number of the entomologists at the lab from an earlier era, including Ned (George) Bohart and Frank Parker. Those people influenced me in 1977 to study and work with solitary bees.

Regarding channel length, the 6 inch length was determined to be a convenient size for commercial use. It fits nicely into 1 gallon metal cans, is easy to haul around, etc. A lot of research was done using X-rays and the longer tubes simply wouldn't work with the size of the negatives they were using. I have had bees completely fill 14 inch Phragmites reed sections, but have found that you get the same number of pupae from two 6 or 7 inch sections. Here in northern Utah/southern Idaho most of the O. lignaria nest naturally in beetle holes in Box Elder and cottonwood trees. These tunnels are made by either Buprestids or Cerambicids and rarely exceed 7 or 8 inches in usable length. I have chopped and sawed apart dead tree trunks in order to get an idea of how long these tunnels are. The really long tunnels just don't occur naturally around here.

Bee life span- I think 3 weeks is accurate. They may live a little longer if there are some intermittent cool periods during the time they are actively nesting. Once the temperature hits about 78 to 80 F, their days are numbers as those dark blue bodies absorb a lot of heat units that take a toll on the bees.

I have some other thoughts on the other topics you mention but have to break away right now -

Dale
 

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Dale,
Thanks for your interest. I have been in touch with Frank Parker and Jim Cane today in fact on another matter but this issue of channel length was briefly discussed as well.
Essentially, I may have not made myself clear - I found in two years worth of experiments, that the more efficient lengths to have bees choose domatia provided by me, were approx. 12". The next year I wanted to find out what the most efficient length was for FEMALE progeny, and that was determined to be 29 cm (~11"). I realise that the same linear length of cocoon laying could be split up in any amount of length combinations, but I was after maximum female offspring. I do not have my data handy but I recall getting about 80% laying of females at the 11" length. When I reduced it to shorter lengths, the percentage of females went down equally, but if one added them up, say doubling two 6" tubes, it would equate to approximately 60% females overall. My experiments were all conducted in Victoria, at 3 sites, with a total of 48 channels of various, equal lengths. My lengths ranged from 20-40cm at all sites. I'm trying again this year and I have chosen 25, 30, and 35cm length channels, again with three sites in Victoria. Spring has hardly arrived so I don't know if this year will be a dud or not, hence my asking others. Probably too late for most, but at least they can comment on the parasitoids?
Regarding lifespan, I've yet to experiment with but it's on my list.
One person who contacted me off-forum, suggested these queries should be addressed with more scientific types. Yes, I'm in APOIDEA, but these questions I have are somewhere in between research and backyarders. I miss being in active research, but then again, I'd also have to be back at university, something I've had my fill of. In the meantime, I enjoy debating and informing people about bee biology and passing on my knowledge, especially around cocoon extraction and cleaning them with sand as can be seen on my Youtube videos. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PrZkT9cC99k&feature=related
When you have more time, feel free to discuss. Remember, you can also email me direct.
Gord http://sites.google.com/site/hutchingsbeeservice/home
 

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I don't have enough knowledge to be able to contribute meaningfully to this thread, but I just wanted to say I enjoy reading it and learning and I appreciate the posting of such information here in any case.
Gord, I have watched your Youtube video about cleaning the cocoons with sand and I may try this myself once I get some bees nesting. I think it makes a lot of sense and seems like a logical, gentle yet effective method of pest control for solitary bees raised in man-made nesting sites. Thank you for your instructional material. :)
 

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Here are the parasites that I find in my bees when collecting nesting tubes from natural environments: Monodontomerus, Stelis, Tricrania, Trichodes, and Ptinus. Once in a while Chrysura, or a member from a closely related genus, will show up. Have never had any Sapygids in Osmia but S. pumila are common in local alfalfa leafcutter bee populations.

Blue orchard bee cocoons from the wild that are thoroughly inspected will produce healthy resident orchard populations that will stay clean for years. The natural re-infestation rate of parasites to an orchard population is low.

During the cocoon inspection process, many inexperience inspectors will overlook pupae of Stelis as they are of similar size, shape, and color to O. lignaria. The key feature to look for is the "spaghetti" frass.

Pollen mite infestations are usually minimal in the intermountain west. Several researchers believe that this is due to our low humidity.

Dale
 

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Utahbee,

So when I am cleaning out cocoons, if I see bee frass/feces that look more like spaghetti than the small brown dots that accompany regular mason bees, that's a key indicator that there's a stelis wasp in the cocoon instead of a mason bee?

I'd love to compile a photo collection to identify "things you might discover when cleaning out your cocoons."

And "frass" is just fun to say, for we non-scientific types.
 

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Discussion Starter #7
I just did a quick search on the web for an image but can't find anything. Something that I'll have to try and photo this year, so good idea of yours to photograph. I shall endeavour to do this later on in the summer.

Yes, the frass is "wooly" or spindle shaped and not the brown "baccillus-shaped" frass as in Osmia.

I recall there being a photo or two in Krombein's book "Trap-nesting Wasps and Bees--Life Histories, Nests and Associates", so try that if you can get a copy at your university or library. I'll take a look in mine later.

Gord
 

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Seattlelite,

Here is a link to a mediocre quality photo of two Stelis cocoons, see page 56 of this rather large but downloadable file: http://www.sare.org/publications/bee/blue_orchard_bee.pdf.
Yes, the frass is the key indicator in identifying this imposter bee. There are other differences too, such as the shape of the tip of the cocoon and the length to width ratio of the cocoon (the Stelis cocoon is stubbier and less elongate). Dale
 
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