Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Flight of the bumblebee



Does this classic title provide a clue to the decline of our top pollinator?

  • Wild bumblebees, hover flies and other insects together pollinate more crops and wild flowers than do honeybees.
  • There are 25 different bumblebees native to the UK, perhaps five are common.
  • Small colonies, usually of no more than 100, live in holes in the ground, dry walls and even compost heaps!
  • They forage over only small distances, just a few hundred yards.
  • Not only do bumblebees fly in inclement weather, their muscular strength, furry surface, variable size and length of tongue, make them extremely efficient pollinators.
  • By a fascinating process known as ‘buzz pollination’, they are almost the only pollinators of blueberries, strawberries and beans.
  • Only 3% of UK wild flowers depend on honeybees for their pollination.
  • Research seems to suggest that when bumblebees are present, honeybees move more quickly from flower to flower and thereby pollinate with increased efficiency.



My own four gardens are alive with bumblebees. They just love our flowers! At the moment Sedum spectabilis, michaelmas daisies and giant eupatorium just buzz when the sun shines. No dig gardens are ideal places for bumblebees to nest in the ground.


Unfortunately the bumblebee is in decline. Recent research points a finger at neonicotinoids, used as a seed coating in agriculture. It is alleged that contaminated pollen and nectar can disorientate bumblebees and some fail to return to their nest.

Another reason for bumblebees’ decline is the discontinuity of habitat. They do not have large stores of honey and do not fly very far, therefore need stability of nectar supply. Our gardens can plug the gap vacated by nature and together they can provide flight corridors for bumblebees to spread to new territories.

(above and below) Bumblebees often have many mites but most of them do not carry disease.
There seems to be some interest in the picture of the bumblebee mites, so I've added
a close-up! Rene is right - they DO look like ticks!

16 comments:

  1. Superb post. Superb pictures.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I agree Jason. The pictures of the bee mites, especially, are amazing.

      Delete
    2. Amazing photography to get in close enough to see the parasites!
      Most mites, and there are over a dozen that infect bumblebees, don’t harm or feed directly off the bees. However, some bees become so infested that they find it almost impossible to fly and forage. Most of the mite species feed on the detritus (wax and bits of pollen) in bumblebee nests.

      Delete
    3. Jamie Kinread, Carlisle13 September 2012 at 11:17

      I've read about this on the Bumblebee conservation website Grant. Apparently the varroa mite that is decimating honeybee hives, does not affect bumblebees.

      Delete
  2. Good post Roger. The pictures really are great. Anything that can be done to encourage the preservation of bumblebees can only be a good thing. Bumblebee Conservation is a brilliant organization and would be a great link on your blog. They are well worth supporting.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Couldn’t agree more Laurie! According to their website, over 150 mites have been found on A SINGLE bee! It’s a wonder the poor thing could fly, let alone collect pollen.

      Delete
  3. I came in from Wildlife Garden on Facebook. I'm really envious! I've been trying to get good pictures of bees in mid flight for ages! Good post.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Saw this on the Countryfile FB page - interesting article with some amazing pictures. I had never seen a photograph of mites on the back of a bumble bee - fabulous!

    ReplyDelete
  5. Here is the USA, there are campaigns (not enough, for sure) to save bumble bees and other pollinators. The Pollinator Partnership is just one very worthwhile cause!

    ReplyDelete
  6. Shaune Jelliss, Tunbridge Wells13 September 2012 at 12:18

    Fab pics! The mites are grossly fascinating!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You're right Shaune, it's sort of disgusting and fascinating at the same time. They look like ticks!

      Delete
  7. Found you on BBC Wildlife Mag (FB) - fantastic photos. Sounds like the garden is a haven for wildlife.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Love the pictures!
    Agree with everyone that the mites are revolting!

    ReplyDelete
  9. Thanks everyone, there has been a great response to this post. Its a bit late to ask now, but does anyone have any special advice to gardeners on how to encourage bumblebees into their gardens and to keep them safe?

    ReplyDelete
  10. Click the link above to get some great advice about gardening for bumblebees. The website also has loads of other advice about getting involved.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. What a great link to answer my question. Thank you, Bumblebee trust.

      Delete

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...