Watch This Bee Build Her Bee-jeweled Nest | Deep Look

What’s this bee up to digging around in
the mud? This blue orchard bee is a mason, a builder. Her material is – you guessed it – mud. And she works alone. In fact, unlike those honeybee hives you might
think of, most of the 4,000 types of bees in North America are solitary. See how she scrapes the wet earth? She collects it with two huge pincer-like
tools on her face called mandibles. She’s gathering mud to make her nest. The nest is long and thin. In nature, she goes into places like hollow
twigs. At the University of California, Davis, she
uses a six-inch-long paper straw provided by researchers. In this nest without a straw you can see how
she builds a wall of mud. Then she gathers food from spring flowers,
but not only to feed herself. See the pretty purple pollen on the anther
of this flower? She grabs the anthers with her legs and rubs
the pollen onto hairs on her abdomen called scopa. And while she’s at it, she sips a little
nectar from the blooms. When she climbs back into her nest, she turns
the pollen and nectar into a sweet morsel next to the mud wall. On this purple ball she lays a single egg. She repeats this several times in her narrow
nest. Egg. Wall. Egg. Wall. When she’s done, she seals it all up with
more mud. A cross-section of the nest shows her incredible
craftsmanship: it looks like a piece of jewelry. Soon, the eggs hatch. The hungry larvae feed on their pollen provision,
the purple lunchbox their mom packed for them. Still in the safety of the nest, the well-fed
larva spins a cocoon. The following spring, the adult bee chews
its way out. Just like their name says, blue orchard bees
love orchards: fields of almonds and sweet cherries. And they’re really good at pollinating them:
A few hundred females can pollinate as many almonds as thousands of honeybees. And their tube nest means they’re portable. That makes it easy to distribute them to farmers. So why haven’t they taken over the fields? Well, they reproduce slowly. They only have 15 babies a year. A queen honeybee has 500 … a day. So there just aren’t that many blue orchard
bees around. But some farmers are enlisting them anyway,
hoping they can provide some relief to their struggling honeybee cousins. If you look carefully, you might just spot
a blue orchard bee foraging out in a field, helping keep fruits and nuts on our plates. Hi. It’s Laura. A special shoutout and thank you to Bill Cass
and James Tarraga, whose generous monthly support on Patreon helps make Deep Look possible. If you’d like to get in on the buzz, come
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One thought on “Watch This Bee Build Her Bee-jeweled Nest | Deep Look

  1. Hello Deep Look fans! I produced this episode. Thank you for watching! A few of you have asked how adult blue orchard bees get out of the nest. Jim Cane, a native bee ecologist at the US Department of Agriculture, explained that adults chew their way out of their tough cocoon and then keep on chewing to pass through the mud partitions and ultimately the mud closure of the nest. Like all bees, the female blue orchard bee gets to choose the sex of each offspring – fertilized eggs become females; unfertilized eggs become males. She puts female eggs at the back of the nest and males at the front. Most females mate only once, so males that are late to the game will have fewer offspring. That’s why adult males of all solitary bees emerge a few days to a week before the females. An emerged bee will be patient and wait for a few days for the next in line to exit. If its sibling doesn’t emerge because it has died, the bee will eat through its sibling’s cocoon and keep going. Thanks for your questions! –Gabriela

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