Mighty Mighty Squash Bees

It's decorative gourd season, ladies and gentlemen. If you are anything like me then you should be reveling in the tastes, smells, and overall pleasing aesthetics of the fruit of the family Cucurbitaceae. If so, then you must pay your respects to a hard working bee that is responsible for the sexual efforts of these vining plants. I'm not talking about the honeybee, no no. I am talking about the squash bees. 

If we're being technical, the squash bees are comprised of two genera, Peponapis and Xenoglossa. They are not the hive forming bees we generally think of. Instead, these bees are solitary in nature. After mating (which usually occurs inside squash flowers) the females will dig a tunnel into the ground. Inside that tunnel she places balls of squash pollen upon which she will lay an egg. The larvae consume the protein-rich pollen as they develop. 

The story of squash bees and Cucurbitaceae is a North American story. Long before squash was domesticated, these bees were busy pollinating their wild relatives. As a result, this bee/plant relationship is quite strong. Female squash bees absolutely rely on squash flowers for the pollen and nectar needs of their offspring. In fact, they often dig their brood tunnels directly beneath the plants. 

Because of this long standing evolutionary relationship, squash bees are the best pollinators of this plant family. The flowers open in the morning just as the squash bees are at their most active. Also, because they are so specific to squash, the squash bees ensure that pollen from one squash flower will make it to another squash flower instead of an unrelated plant species. Honeybees can't hold a candle to these native bees. What's more, crowds of eager honeybees may even chase off the solitary squash bees. For these reasons, it is often recommended that squash farmers forgo purchasing honeybee hives for their crops. If left up to nature, the squash bees will do what they are evolutionarily made to do. 

Photo Credit: MJI Photos (https://www.flickr.com/photos/capturingwonder/4962652272/)

Further Reading:
http://www.researchgate.net/profile/Victor_Parra-Tabla2/publication/226134213_Importance_of_Conserving_Alternative_Pollinators_Assessing_the_Pollination_Efficiency_of_the_Squash_Bee_Peponapis_limitaris_in_Cucurbita_moschata_(Cucurbitaceae)/links/549471010cf20f487d2a95b8.pdf

http://www.jstor.org/stable/25084168?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents

http://extension.psu.edu/plants/sustainable/news/2011/jan-2011/1-squash-bees