Bees play a major role in the production of many seed crops grown in Central Oregon, like carrots, onion and alfalfa. Farmers depend upon the bees to pollinate their fields. The majority of the bees supplied in the fields are honeybees however farmers use leaf cutter bees in their alfalfa seed fields. Bees are brought into the fields generally early in the summer and are removed at the end of summer. Bee nutrition research is currently being conducted at COARC.
There are three different castes in a honeybee hive. There is only one queen bee per hive, whose main job is to produce more bees, laying up to 2,000 eggs per day. The second caste of bee is the worker bee. Worker bees come from fertilized eggs the Queen Bee lays and are all female. They live for 4-9 months during the winter season and approximately only 6 weeks during the summer when they are busy collecting pollen and nectar. Nearly all bees in a hive are worker bees, with a hive consisting of approximately 60,000-80,000 bees in the summer. Worker bees have a barbed stinger that they use when they feel they or their hive is being threatened. They are only able to use the stinger once, as it results in their death. The last caste is the drone bee. Drone bees come from the unfertilized eggs laid by the queen and are all male. Their sole purpose is to mate with the Queen Bee. Drones are not useful to the hive in winter months so they are expelled from the hive in autumn. There can be between 300-3,000 drones in a hive on standby in the summer to mate with the queen.
Leafcutter bees are a solitary bee species, meaning they do not produce colonies like social insects (honeybees, wasps, ants) and do not store honey; however they are a very efficient pollinator. They are approximately the size of a honeybee but are somewhat darker in color and have lighter bands on their abdomen. Leafcutter bees are not aggressive and will not sting or bite unless they are being handled. In the wild, leafcutter bees nest in soft, rotted wood or in the stems of large pithy plants and use cut leaf fragments to form nest cells, which is where their name comes from. In commercial agriculture leafcutter bees nest in supplied wood or Styrofoam boards with pre-drilled holes. During pollination leafcutter bees are stored in large wooden houses or trailers. Leafcutter bees are more efficient pollinators than honey bees in alfalfa seed fields because the honey bee is worried about being struck in the head when they trip the reproductive structure of the alfalfa flower; this is not a problem for the leafcutter bee.