Sunday, 1 May 2011

The Humble and Regal Bumblebee

I don't see why birds, butterflies and dragonflies should get all the press; there are a host of other animalia popping up at this time of year. For instance, the common old bumble bee you might have been lucky enough to see in the past week or so has spent the whole winter all alone in an abandoned mouse hole or some similar protected spot. She is now faced with the daunting task of starting a whole new nest all by herself. At this time she desperately needs to find pollen from the few spring flowers available, both as food for herself and for her young. She was inseminated during a mating flight late last summer or early fall, found a safe spot to winter and is now ready to lay her fertilized eggs. (Many don't make it through the winter's cold.) When she has collected enough pollen, she will roll it into a ball and lay her eggs in the middle. She will also scrape wax from the underside of her abdomen to make a little cup just in front of the pollen ball. This she will fill with nectar. She will then place her body in the groove she left in the top of the pollen ball and raise her body heat to incubate her eggs. While incubating, she will sip from the cup of nectar to provide the energy she needs. When the young hatch, they can eat their way out of the ball. These will provide the first workers for the new nest. Before they are even mature, the queen will have started another batch. Towards the end of the summer, the nest will be producing both males and females, and the cycle repeats. And life goes on.

A little show of respect to any queen you might come across is definitely in order.

Murray Seymour


                                           Two-Spotted Bumblebee  Bombus bimaculatus


                                                Photo:  Murray Seymour

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