Bumblebee Stumble

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A bumblebee climbs out of a roadside nest. Photo: PK Read

A bumblebee climbs out of a roadside nest.
Photo: PK Read

I was running a couple of days ago when I heard the thunderous buzzing of a bumblebee. A big fellow bobbed past my head and took a sudden dive, disappearing into the roadside greenery. I waited for a moment, and the bumblebee (or one of its relations) came clambering back out of a hole.

Bumbleebees build nests rather than bee hives; they are unlike honeybees in other ways, as well. The nests usually contain fewer than 200 individuals rather than the thousands of bees that populate a hive, and among bumblebees, only the queen survives the winter in her next, living off the contents of tiny honey pots.

What bumblebees share with honeybees, however, is that they are under threat from habitat loss, climate change, intensification of agriculture, pesticides, and illness.

It looks like some of the viruses that have been affecting honeybees may be making the jump to bumblebees, as well.

Illustration of Queen/worker Short-haired bumblebee Image: Geoff Allen / Short-haired Bumblebee Project

Illustration of Queen/worker Short-haired bumblebee
Image: Geoff Allen / Short-haired Bumblebee Project

There are over 250 known species of the Bombus genus, family Apidae, mostly native to the northern hemisphere.

An estimated quarter of Europe’s bumblebees are now at risk of extinction – the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has listed 16 of Europe’s 68 bumblebee species as at risk. Three of Europe’s five most important insect pollinators are bumblebees species.

Bumblebees can nest in a variety of places, from porches to house wall cavities, but bumblebees rarely sting unless threatened, and won’t damage structures.

For the moment, our area still seems to have a thriving number of bumblebees. At any rate, enough of them that they bumble into me on walks and runs.

Bumblebee lifecycle Source: Bumblebee.org

Bumblebee lifecycle
Source: Bumblebee.org

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