Hemp fields provide a source of pollen for stressed bees.

It turns out that bees attack male flowers in hemp fields to look for pollen for their babies.

Researchers believe that hemp could be an additional source of pollen for bees.

Good news for bee lovers: Hemp fields may contain a supply of nutrients for starving colonies, according to a study by a Colorado state entomology student. Low-THC cannabis attracts a wide range of bee species and could become a late-season pollen source for bees.

Industrial hemp plants, become part of the menu of American bees as states create pilot programs of legal cultivation. Neither hemp nor other strains of Cannabis sativa grown for recreational or medicinal purposes provide insects with the least nectar, and all rely on the wind to shed pollen. Yet, a large variety of bees appeared in two experimental plots of hemp during a one-month collection experiment conducted by Colton O'Brien, an entomology student at Colorado State University in Fort Collins.

23 bees from 66 genera listed in Colorado have fallen into O'Brien's traps, he reported on November 11 at Entomology 18, the annual meeting of American and Canadian entomological societies. O'Brien and his advisor, Arathi Seshadri, believe this is the first survey of bees in cannabis fields.

"You walk in the fields and you hear buzz everywhere," says O'Brien.

He caught big drones, tiny bees covered with a kind of metallic green sweat, and many others that were in the abundant greenish yellow pollen scattered by the male flowers.

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Photographed by Amanda Robinson. Photo by USGS PWRC.
A female Agapostemon virescens collected at Caroline Co. in Maryland.

Bees need pollen to feed their young, and when trapping traps in August 2016, there were not many other flowers that bloomed. Little is known about the nutritional qualities of hemp pollen for larval bees. Yet commercial hemp plots can become a rare food source for pollinators in times of stress, O'Brien said. The health of honey bees has deteriorated in recent years, and conservationists are also concerned about the fate of the many less studied wild bees. O'Brien urged crop scientists who are developing pest management strategies for outdoor hemp to consider bee health.

Pest control techniques for hemp are still in progress. One wonders even what insects are considered harmful to hemp, said entomologist Whitney Cranshaw, also of Colorado State University. New potential threats have emerged since the beginning of the twentieth century, when farmers were growing hemp with very low concentrations of THC, as a fiber crop and other practical uses. Anti-drug legislation eventually made the cultivation of any form of cannabis illegal for decades in the United States.

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A striped two-tone bee visits a variety of flowers

The US 2014 Farm Bill, however, differentiates between hemp with less than 0,3% THC in dry weight and high THC cannabis varieties of interest for recreational and medical use. This distinction has allowed states such as Colorado and Kentucky to set up regulated legal cropping programs to revive this potentially promising crop. But this raises new questions about this old types of plants.

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