|Blue Orchard Bee – Osmia lignaria|
What’s blue, beautiful, beneficial, and buzzes? The blue orchard bee. Native to the US and Canada, these little bees become active in early spring and get right to work pollinating some of our favorite plants. They are known to be excellent pollinators of apple, pear, and cherry trees as well as fruiting shrubs in the northwestern U.S. In fact, recent studies have shown that native bee species, including the blue orchard bee, are two to three times more effective pollinators than non-native honeybees! Washington State has over 600 species of native bees. Although many animals function as pollinators (such as butterflies, beetles, flies, wasps, and even birds and bats), bees are the most effective because bees, apart from honeybees, actively collect pollen to feed their young and themselves. Other pollinators only search for nectar and get pollen stuck to their bodies as a result. The second reason is that bees tend to visit flowers of the same species within a foraging trip, so cross-pollination happens much more readily. Unlike honeybees and bumblebees, blue orchard bees are solitary and don’t live in a colony. Each female builds her own nest in existing tunnels in wood or hollow stems. After choosing a nesting hole, she places one egg on a pile of nectar and pollen and then seals it off with a thin divider of mud. She creates several more sections in this manner and usually constructs these divided nests in two to four nesting cavities.