Tuesday, June 18, 2013

City Bees, Country Bees

Honeybees are not the only ones in trouble--bumblebees are too. This is the first of a two part series that will discuss how urban areas might be bumblebees’ best chance for survival. 


Part 1: A Little about Bumblebees and Neonicotinoid Insecticides

Life as a Bumble Bee 
Bombus ssp. on wild geranium
Put aside being human for a moment. Imagine you are another creature--no, not one of those charismatic ones--not dolphin, whale, bear, or wolf, nor even soaring eagle. Take it down a notch or a hundred and imagine you are a bee: not the glamorous, attention-getting honeybee, star of books, articles and films, either, but a wild bumblebee, Bombus impatiens, for example, common in the Midwest. Don’t worry about getting used to seeing in the ultraviolet range, or having six legs, or suddenly being able to fly, or able to pollinate flowers simply by making a buzzing sound. This is conceptual.

So you are a young queen. It’s early spring and some combination of time, temperature and length of day has caused you to awaken from your winter hibernation, or diapause. You pull yourself out of bed--the hibernaculum you dug for yourself last fall after you had left your birth nest and mated--scramble out from under the dry leaves that cover the area, and survey the landscape. If you are lucky, you’ve emerged in an area where there are plenty of spring-blooming flowers. You will, assuming you evade hungry predators and don’t succumb to mites or disease, live a happy, if short, bee life. You’ll fly for several weeks feeding on pollen and looking for a good nesting area, which might be at ground level or just below--perhaps under a tussock of prairie dropseed grass, or in an old mouse nest. Then you’ll settle in, lay eggs, and provide pollen for and raise your first group of daughters. Subsequently, while you retire to lay more eggs, they’ll take over foraging and raising young to keep the nest going, ensuring the survival of the next year’s population. Along the way, countless plants will be pollinated, allowing fruits and vegetables to grow and ripen. As a result of your efforts, and those of the thousands of other bee and pollinator species, life on earth will continue.