southeastern blueberry bee

This is a native solitary bee species highly specialized in pollinating blueberry plants. This bee is crucial for the pollination of native blueberry shrubs and crops in the southeastern United States, including Virginia. The Southeastern Blueberry Bee resembles a small bumblebee but with paler coloration in different patterns. It is about 12-15 mm long, with a black body and yellowish hair on its thorax. These bees are univoltine, meaning they have one generation per year. Adult bees emerge in early spring, coinciding with the blooming period of native blueberry plants. They are highly efficient and key pollinators of these shrubs, essential to their life cycle.

Buzz Pollination:
Blueberry flowers have a unique structure that makes them difficult for many bees to pollinate. The Southeastern Blueberry Bee uses the technique called buzz pollination (or sonication) mentioned above, where it vibrates its flight muscles to shake pollen loose from the flower’s anthers. This method is extremely effective for blueberry plants, which release pollen through small pores.

Flower Fidelity:
These bees show strong fidelity to blueberry flowers during their flight periods, meaning they preferentially visit blueberry flowers over other types of flowers when available. This behavior ensures high rates of cross-pollination, which is essential for fruit set and berry size.

Nesting Habits:
Southeastern Blueberry Bees are solitary ground nesters. They typically nest in well-drained, sandy soils, often near native blueberry plants or within blueberry. Female bees dig burrows in the ground where they lay their eggs and provision them with pollen and nectar.

Habitat Requirements:
Maintaining suitable nesting sites is crucial for supporting populations of Southeastern Blueberry Bees. This includes preserving undisturbed areas of sandy soil and minimizing ground disturbance during their active season.

Benefits to Blueberry Crops

  • Increased Yield: Research has shown that areas with abundant Southeastern Blueberry Bees can experience up to a 70% increase in blueberry yields compared to areas relying solely on honeybees. The precision and efficiency of buzz pollination lead to better fruit set and larger berries.
  • Pollination Insurance: These native bees provide a form of insurance against the variability of honeybee populations, which can be affected by factors like disease and pesticide use.

Conservation and Support

  • Habitat Preservation: To support Southeastern Blueberry Bees, it is important to preserve natural habitats that provide nesting sites and floral resources. This includes maintaining patches of native vegetation and undisturbed ground.
  • Pesticide Management: Limiting the use of pesticides, especially during the blooming period of blueberries, is critical to protect these bees. Integrated Pest Management (IPM) strategies can help minimize pesticide impacts.
  • Planting for Diversity: While Southeastern Blueberry Bees specialize in blueberries, planting a variety of native flowering plants can provide additional forage options and support overall bee diversity.