The bumblebee is in decline. We’ve all heard about it on the telly, so it must be true. Well, according to Anthony McCluskey, the Bumblebee Conservation Trust’s Outreach Manager, it ain’t necessarily so. It really depends on where you’re talking about, and what kind of bee.
There are 24 species of bumblebee in the UK. Not all are colony dwellers. Some, the cuckoo bees, live solitary lives. One will takeover a nest, depose the queen and the cuckoo’s off-spring are nurtured at the expense of the colony. There is no new queen to hibernate through the winter. Bees live only for one season. The workers, females all, forage, house-keep and tend the young. The males procreate. At the season’s end, the new queen mates, stores the semen in her body and winters underground – she can withstand temperatures as low as -19C – come the spring she forages on early flowering plants, finds a suitable nest site and restarts the colony. Surprisingly bumblebees communicate through scent; no waggle dance for them. They can also smell mice. Handy ability for a species which needs a hollow space in which to establish a nest; a disused ‘mouse house’ is ideal.
All species of bumblebee may not be equally threatened, but all are important to our economy and ecology. They are the pollinators. The biggest threats are habitat loss and change of land use. You can help with habitat protection, and by growing bee-friendly plants rather than more ornamental hybrid varieties.
Further information from bumblebeeconservation.org