As you sit down to a slice of pumpkin pie at Thanksgsiving, you're probably not thinking about the pollinators reponsible for that squash.
Agricultural Research Service entomologist James Cane and his colleagues have discovered that America's native bees play a more important role in pollinating pumpkins, squash and gourds than originally thought.
Most of these bees are members of the genus Peponapis or the genus Xenoglossa, says Cane, who is based in Logan, Utah.
Investigations such as Cane's provide new details about how wild bees can aid pollination. Such help is especially needed becuse of the ongoing problems faced by the European honey bee, Apis mellifera. Honey bees' current troubles include the puzzling malady known as colony collapse disorder.
Cane has shown for the first time that male Peponapis pruinosa play a surprisingly significant role in pollinating the blossoms of yellow summer squash. In the past, less than 10 percent of pollination has been attributed to male bees.
With both male and female bees on the job, fewer bees overall would be needed, he says.
That's a plus for growers and beekeepers because it suggests that increasingly scarce, in-demand honey bee hives could be freed up for work elsewhere.
Simple lust may explain the male squash's role in enticing pollination. Unlike male bees that mainly hunt for females at nest sites, P. pruinosa males seek their mates at flowers. As they fly from one blossom to the next, the bees inadvertently carry grains of pollen trapped in tiny hairs on their bodies with them.
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