LOGAN, Utah (AP) _ Researchers have identified some substitute bees to do the job of the European honeybee, whose numbers have been declining over the last several years.

A variety of diseases and mites have resulted in a shortage of the honeybees, meaning there are fewer of them to pollinate gardens, orchards and wilderness.

So the Agriculture Department's Bee Biology Lab at Utah State University has come up with some alternatives.

``There are 3,000 to 5,000 species of bees in the United States, not just honeybees and bumblebees,'' said Vincent Tepedino, a research entomologist for the USDA.

Among them is the blue orchard bee, a native to Utah, which is slightly smaller than a typical honeybee. The little black insects look more like bluebottle flies than bees.

But they could be crucial in pollinating orchard crops. Research entomologist Jordi Bosch said fruit trees bloom early when temperatures are cooler. That creates problems, since honeybees do not like rain or the colder weather, Bosch said.

Most fruit trees won't pollinate themselves, requiring the bee to visit multiple trees, which honeybees also shun, Bosch said. In addition, European honeybees don't always rub up against the right parts of the flower to ensure pollination.

``There are lots of problems with them not being very efficient pollinators,'' Bosch said.

The blue orchard bees, on the other hand, begin work a little earlier in the year than honeybees; they work longer hours and don't mind the rain and cold.

``There's a tendency for honeybees to stay in one tree,'' Tepedino said. ``The blue orchard bee will switch rows of trees and move on.''

It takes only 250 blue orchard bees to pollinate the same orchard space that otherwise would require two hives of about 20,000 honeybees.

Research entomologist Bill Kemp said several smaller orchard owners unable to get honeybees are turning to the bee lab for help. The lab has been using blue orchard bees to pollinate six acres of orchard in Cache Valley since 1978.

The lab also has been looking at other bees, such as the alfalfa leaf-cutter bee to pollinate indoor hybrid plants and endangered native plants.

But there is one drawback: Neither the blue orchard nor alfalfa leaf-cutter bees can make honey.

``The thing we worry about is pollination,'' Kemp said.