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The Bees are Back

Posted on August 23, 2020

Bumble bees are so important to our environment, but have been on the decline in North America. That’s why we bring in Joel Gardner, a PhD student in Entomology, to run sessions of Bumble Bee Surveys throughout the summer to compare his findings year after year and track our progress in helping the bee population.

A bumble bee sits on small yellow flowers

Native pollinators, such as bees, butterflies and other insects are essential workers for plants. Without the effort of these tiny, fuzzy creatures, many plants would produce far less seed or fruit.

Native bees, including sweat bees, mining bees, digger bees, and leafcutter bees, as well as the familiar bumble bee, are fantastic pollinators because they are dependent on the nectar and pollen from flowers to feed themselves and their young, so they spend lots of time making flower visits. Bees are adapted for picking up pollen on their very hairy bodies. Each  of a bee’s hairs has many tiny hairs upon it, all ready to pick up pollen from each flower.

Yellow and orange wild flowers in a field in summer

Native pollinators are in decline in much of the world due to habitat loss, pesticide use and even climate change. Protecting local habitats, such as native grasslands, can help, but you can even support pollinators in an urban backyard.

  • Different bees require flowers at different times of the year, so try providing a variety of flowering plants, including trees, shrubs and wildflowers, throughout the growing season.
  • Leave an area of dry, sandy soil undisturbed for ground nesting bees.
  • Reduce or eliminate pesticide use where possible, as this can impact bee survival.

Community research can help us to learn more about how bees are doing in our area. Joel Gardner was able to coordinate a group of FortWhyte visitors this summer to help collect bumble bees for identification, while maintaining physical distancing and enjoying the outdoors!

A bumble bee sits on a purple flower

Over the four sampling sessions from July- August, Joel identified 8 species of bumble bee occurring here by catching and releasing 127 individual bees in our Solar Pollinator Garden, as well as other wildflower patches at FortWhyte.

Some interesting notes:

  1. Joel discovered Bombus terricola, the yellow-banded bumble bee, a species in decline designated as “Special Concern,” is present at FortWhyte Alive!  Joel noticed that numbers were actually up this year, compared with the past two summers of this program.
  2. Joel also saw some changes in which species were most common between years.  In 2019 Bombus bimaculatus, the two-spotted bumble bee, was most common, in 2020. In 2019 Bombus rufocinctus, the red-belted bumble bee, was the most numerous in the counts. This change could have been an impact of the very wet fall season in 2019. Queen bumble bees overwinter in the soil, and heavy rains may have flooded out the early hibernating bimaculatus, while sparing the later-hibernating rufocinctus, who waited for colder weather to make their burrow.