Columns, The Outside Story

The Blueberries and the Bees

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photo by Spencer Hardy
Northern Highbush Blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum)

WHITE RIVER JUNCTION – Blueberry season in Vermont is a sweet one! With an abundance of pick-your-own farms and several wild species, it’s a time of year you surely won’t want to miss.

But why are we mentioning blueberry season in our Field Guide to May when the first berries won’t ripen until late June? Because for the bees, May is blueberry season. Blueberries are one of a few genera with multiple specialist bees. They also attract a wide range of generalists, including bumble bees.

While not on the level of milk, syrup, and apples, blueberries are a major (and old) agricultural product in Vermont and have been the focus of considerable research. A University of Vermont study found that native bees surpassed managed Honey Bees (Apis melifera) as blueberry pollinators. That same study also provided the Vermont Wild Bee survey with over 4,000 records of wild bees, which has given us significant insight into the distribution of blueberry-associated bees in Chittenden County. Some blueberry specialists are relatively easy to find on blueberry farms, while others have yet to be found in the Green Mountain State. With a camera and a little luck, you could be the first to discover one of these bees in Vermont!

Visit the Vermont Atlas of Life to learn about blueberry specialists and add observations of any bees you photograph to the Wild Bee Survey on iNaturalist (inaturalist.org/projects/vermont-wild-bee-survey).

Spencer Hardy is on the staff of the Vermont Center for Ecostudies.

Spencer Hardy

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