Building a backup for the embattled honeybee

With the honeybee under siege, by pesticides, parasites and disease, The Wonderful Company—the world’s largest almond grower—hired a scientist to build it a replacement pollinator, according to FERN’s latest story, published with Scientific American (paywalled).

“The company chose to develop Osmia lignaria, a native mason bee known as the blue orchard bee, or BOB,” writes Paige Embry. And after eight years, Dr. Gordon Wardell, the company’s director of bee biology, has “figured out how to do what no one else has: economically raise large numbers of BOBs on a small parcel, making them a commercially viable alternative to honeybees for almond pollination.”

Although plenty of hurdles remain for BOBs to become a widely used commercial pollinator, Wardell’s has shown that it can be done. “Theresa Pitts-Singer, who for years has studied BOBs at the USDA’s Utah bee lab, thinks the bees are finally close to becoming a managed pollinator, reaching a ‘tipping point’ she never thought they would reach,” Embry writes. “She is convinced because BOBs are increasingly available and growers want them, even though they are not cheap. She says that for a long time only one orchard pollination model was dependable: renting honeybees. Now more people seem to accept that other models might work—from bringing more wild bees onto farms to alternatives such as BOBs.”