THE BUMBLE BEE




We are lucky in this country because even though we are an island nation we have in fact 27 different species of native bumble bee to our credit! A fantastic diversity and something we should cherish and be proud of. Unfortunately with the introduction of intensive farming after the Second World War about 95% of natural flower rich pasture land was lost to us as it was turned over to crops. As a result of this, native bumble bee populations are on the decline and two of our native bees species have already become extinct.

What with the problems that honey bees have had to contend with regards to the varroa mite and the still ‘causes unknown’ Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), the protection of our native bumble bee population has never been more important. What other pollinating insect has the slightest chance of stepping into the honey bees boots should the relentless 30-35% year-on-year loss of honey bee hives continue unabated?

You only need two things to attract native bumble bees into the garden. The first is a reasonable selection of nectar-rich plants that will provide fuel and nutrition throughout their active season. This is important as bumble bees tend to have quite small territories and won’t fly to far from the nests in order to find nectar. The second is a suitable habitat in which to build their nests. Unlike honey bees, most bumble bees live in nests under the ground which are normally only used for that year, but they need a particular type of soil and position.

The nectar that the bumble bees are looking for is the sweet sugary liquid that plants excrete in order to attract pollinators. It is normally found at the base of the flower, and pollinating insects use this nectar for energy.

While they are drinking the nectar the bees are busy scribbling away with their legs, scraping away at the pollen on the anthers. Using specialised ‘comb like’ hairs on their legs they deposit the pollen into basket like structures on their hind legs.

It‘s the pollen that is the major ‘pay off’ here as it is used as a high protein food source for the adult bees and more importantly it is used for feeding (along with honey) to the juvenile larvae.

You can try and create favourable nesting conditions in the garden by providing a free-draining, loose substrate, which is easily dug into by the bees. By creating mounds of soil mixed with about 20% natural sand, and providing a good range of nectar rich plants, you will have a good chance of attracting those queen bees looking for possible nesting sites.

Research has shown that queen bees also prefer some kind of shelter and support structure around the nest, so try positioning your soil sounds around established tree roots or by the base of a sturdy wall. The most important thing for your new bumblebee nest is that it is kept dry at all times. The risk of accidental flooding carries the very real threat of death for both the adult bees and their larvae.

Bumble bees are generally separated into two groups. The first is those bees with short tongues while the second group holds those bees with long tongues. While short tongued bees are more ‘generalist’ feeders and able to make a living off of most flowering plants, the long tongued bees are far more more specialist and it is this group of bees that are predominantly at risk and are currently suffering population declines. However, with front and back gardens accounting for approximately 1 million hectares in this country, even a small change in the type of plants that we grow could have an enormous effect on re-building dwindling bee populations.

To help encourage long tongued bees into the garden, simply providing nectar rich plants isn't the whole answer although it is still a fantastic way to attract other beneficial pollinating insects and butterflies to your garden. You will need to include plants whose flowers have an extended tubular base so that it will accommodate the 'long tongued bees’ long tongue. Plants such as bugles, honeysuckles and quite a few from the lamiaceae family are ideal.

For further information click onto:
BEES AND BIODIVERSITY
BUMBLE BEES AND THE AMERICAN FARMER
CAN YOU KEEP HONEY BEES IN THE GARDEN?
EDIBLE CROP POLLINATION AND THE DECLINE OF BEES
HOW TO ATTRACT BUMBLE BEES TO THE SUBURBAN GARDEN
THE BUMBLE BEE
THE LEAF INSECTS

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