Bzzzz! Bzzzz! Bzzzz! What’s that flying around your head? Oh, it’s a bee. NO! Don’t hit it! Haven’t you heard that bees are in trouble and really need our help? Now is the time to do something to make a BIG difference for these little fuzzy pollinators. This year you can sign up for a Bring Back the Wild campaign to protect the Western bumble bee!
There are many different kinds of bees, such as bumble bees, honey bees, carpenter bees and mason bees. Regardless of the species of bee, being a bee is tough. Not only are they sometimes mistaken for pests, but many people forget the incredibly important role they play in our ecosystems. Bees are pollinators of many of the foods and flowers we enjoy!
Bees and pollination are very cool! Flowers and food plants like fruits and vegetables need to be pollinated to make the seeds for new plants. While there are other forms of pollination, the bee method is the best for many flowers. Some flowers have evolved so that a bee has to brush up against the pollen-covered anther to get to the nectar it wants to eat. Other flowers require ‘buzz pollination’, a special kind of pollination where a bumble bee vibrates against the anther to loosen the pollen. The pollen gets stuck to the bees’ hairs so when the bee leaves the flower, the pollen goes with it. As the bee flies to another flower to eat more nectar, the pollen is carried on its body where it comes into contact with the stigma of the other flower and the plant fertilization process begins, eventually forming a seed that will sprout into a new young plant.
If bees disappear, not only will flowers suffer, but you will feel the impact as well. There will be a lot fewer tomatoes, cranberries, blueberries, blackberries, apples, cherries, avocados and almonds, just to name a few of the plants that rely on bee pollination. That’s why it’s SO important for us to make sure bees stick around.
DID YOU KNOW… bees are found on every continent except Antarctica? That’s right, there are even some bee species way up north in the Arctic!
What Does the Western Bumble Bee Look Like?
If you think all bees look the same, you’re wrong! There are over 20,000 species of bees in the world, and each species has something unique about it. Let’s take a closer look at the Western bumble bee.
The Western bumble bee is…
- Black and yellow, with a whitish bottom – yellow and black colouration in animals tell would-be predators to stay away!
- Fuzzy – their hair is used to trap pollen when they are pollinating flowers
- Between 9 and 19 mm long, but each bee caste (social group within a species) is different:
- The largest bee is the queen, who lays the eggs and is the head of the hive. She is 17-19mm long and 9-10mm wide.
- In the middle are the drones, whose only role is to mate with the queen. They are 13-17mm long and 6-8mm wide.
- The smallest bees are the workers, who take care of the hive and collect food and water. They are 9-14 mm long and 5-7 mm wide.
Where Does the Western Bumble Bee Live?
The Western bumble bee is a North American bee. In Canada, it is found in British Columbia, Alberta, southern Saskatchewan, and the Yukon and Northwest Territories.
Western bumble bees live in open flowering grasslands, savannas and alpine meadows. Usually nesting underground, they look for abandoned rodent burrows or tufts of undisturbed grass to build their homes. They will also feed on flowers on the forest floor. In the winter, these bees find abandoned underground burrows or openings in dead wood.
What’s Threatening the Western Bumble Bee?
Once common throughout the western and central United States, Alaska, and western Canada, Western bumble bees have declined over the past 10-20 years to the point where they have almost completely disappeared from some areas. While the causes of their decline are not fully understood, the following threats are likely playing a role:
Habitat Loss and Fragmentation
Did you know that bumble bees only travel about 1-1.8km away from their colony to find food? That’s why habitat loss and habitat fragmentation are such big threats to bees. These little insects need big spaces with lots of flowers for food, safe and undisturbed areas for their nests, and protected spots to spend the winter. Unfortunately, development of wild spaces is causing problems for bees and the Western bumble bee in particular. Habitat loss can limit the number of flowers that bloom in early spring, impacting the queens’ ability to survive through the early stages of the annual cycle. Several bumble bee species are active early in the spring so they need flowers to survive. Habitat fragmentation can also reduce mating opportunities with other populations and lead to inbreeding.
Disease and Pests
Just like you, bumble bees can get sick. There are two diseases in particular that are causing some big issues for these little pollinators. Nosema bombi and Crithidia bombi are two species of parasites that make bumble bees sick by disrupting their ability to reproduce successfully which can lead to death.
Parasitic tracheal mites are a serious threat to bumble bees in Canada, especially the Western bumble bee. These mites are tiny little insects that live inside the respiratory system of bumble bees, hurting the bees and making them more likely to get sick from other pests and diseases.
It isn’t easy being a farmer, especially when the crops they are trying to grow keep getting eaten by pests. That’s why some farmers use chemicals called pesticides to protect their crops. However, in certain circumstances, these chemicals can cause some serious health problems to insects like the Western bumble bee, like nervous system failure, muscle spasms or even death.
In many grassland habitats invasive plant species are thriving at the expense of native wildflowers, making it harder for bees to find the food they need to survive. Combined with non-native pests like the tracheal mites, invasive species are a serious issue for bumble bees.
Climate change has brought fluctuating temperature and precipitation, increases in the frequency of extreme weather events, and alters the timing (phenology) of when flowers bloom. While climate change often affects species with restricted ranges and/or more narrow ecological tolerances more strongly (e.g., more sensitive to relatively small changes in weather), scientists are concerned about possible impacts of climate change on the long-term survival of Western bumble bees.
Status: Under Assessment
How You Can Help
You can take action in your own lives to help protect the Western bumble bee and other bee species. Here are a few helpful hints:
Build a Bee Habitat
What’s a bee habitat, you ask? Well it’s a pollinator garden! When you plant a garden full of brightly coloured flowers, you provide bees with their food – delicious nectar. Don’t be surprised if your garden grows bigger and brighter than ever because you can bet those bees will be pollinating your flowers as a “thank you”. If you plant large patches of blue and yellow flowers, for example, bees will come flying!
Learn more about bees and bee gardens:
Sign up for a Bring Back the Wild Campaign
Earth Rangers, in partnership with Dr. Cory Sheffield and Bayer CropScience, is working to protect the Western bumble bee and we need your help! By starting a Bring Back the Wild™ campaign to protect the Western bumble bee you will be fundraising to support environmental education and critical pollinator conservation in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Yukon and Northwest Territories. Here’s how your campaign will help protect the Western bumble bee:
- Support scientists conducting population and habitat surveys to study Canadian bee species diversity
- Help support scientists in identifying pests that cause disease in bees and research wild bee colony health
- Create awareness about how bees play a vital role in pollination and why bee conservation is so important for the foods we eat everyday
Visit Bring Back the Wild™ to start your campaign to protect the Western Bumble Bee.
Generously Supported By
A Conservation Project With
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