Beyond Your Backyard - Save Our Bees
By Kimberly J. Epp
There are 19,000 species of bees world-wide, and 3,000 to 4,000 pollen bee species within North America. But sadly, our bees are at risk, and we are losing bee species every year.
Climate change, GMO use, pesticides and habitat loss all play a factor.
In some countries, such as Thailand, the pollinators have been completely extirpated in areas by pesticide use, and orchard keepers are resorting to pollinating their trees themselves.
Without pollinators, we would not survive on earth more than 4 years. We could never possibly take over the role of pollinators ourselves.
In North America, the Honey Bee population has gone down 40 per cent. Mites in the bee hives also play a factor. Bee Keepers play a large part in bee conservation.
Bee species play a very important part in our ecosystems. A third of all the food we eat depends on their pollination.
Every fall, you can participate in the Great Canadian Bumblebee Count to learn more about the species we have, to help give more accurate numbers of their current populations, and to help scientists conserve these populations.
We have several bumblebee species within Canada.
Have you ever looked to see the size, color differences and wing size? Bumblebees are fuzzier than the more elongated Honey Bees. Bumblebees live together in a nest close to the ground as a family group. They are among the most social creatures in the animal kingdom. Each nest may have as many as 400 family members.
A honeybee hive, by comparison, can hold 60,000 bees. Bumblebees pollinate 15 times faster than the Honey Bees do.
The queen bumblebee hibernates in a hole through the winter. Upon awakening, she immediately searches for flowers and drinks their nectar for needed energy.
The first readily available flower for bees is the dandelion, so please leave them "bee".
When the queen finds a good spot for a nest, she collects pollen from the flowers and lays eggs. For two weeks, she sits on the eggs and shivers to keep them warm, leaving them only to collect more pollen and nectar. Those eggs become the queen bee’s daughters, who are always worker bees.
While the mother bee rests and lays more eggs, the worker bees perform chores like guarding and cleaning the nest, collecting nectar and pollen as meals for themselves and the other bees in the nest. Toward the end of summer, the queen bee lays eggs that will become male bees and new queen bees. When they’re fully grown, the male bees fly off, never to return. The new queen bees also fly off to mate, but may return to the nest at night. After mating, sadly the male bumblebees die.
To prepare for hibernation, each new queen bee fills up on pollen and nectar. Then she finds a hole in the ground and begins her long winter’s sleep, leaving her mother and worker bee siblings behind in the nest to die. Unlike honeybees, which die after they sting, bumblebees can sting more than once. But they only do so when they are agitated, so stay away from their nests. Bumblebees generally are not as aggressive as Honey Bees.
The length of the tongue differs among the bumblebee species so they can feed from flowers of different shapes. This is an interesting thing to observe if you give a tired bee some sugar water. Bumblebees are also covered in an oil that makes them waterproof. They leave distinct smells on flowers. This lets other bees know they shouldn’t bother looking for nectar there. These scents also help bees find their way back to their nests. Scent is a form of communication.
Bumblebees flap their wings 200 times per second. This also helps to cool them. The worker bees hover near the entrance of the nest, and provide natural air conditioning to keep the temperature at a cool and stable level.
Because of their speedy metabolism, like a hummingbird, a bumblebee must eat almost constantly. Bumblebees travel several kilometers every day to pollinate.
“A bumblebee with a full stomach is only ever about 40 minutes from starvation,” according to scientist and author, Dave Goulson.
You can help a tired and exhausted bee, and save it from almost certain death, by placing out a teaspoon of sugar water for it. The bee will immediately smell it, then spend several minutes lapping it up. Afterwards, the bee needs some time to regain its energy. After about 15 minutes it should be feeling refreshed again, and "bee" able to fly off. It takes nothing away from a human to be kind to an animal.
You can do your part to help save bees by planting bee friendly flowers, by never using pesticides, by never removing the dandelions from your lawn, by putting out bee hotels and bee baths, and by participating in the Great Canadian Bumblebee Count.
Bees are literally our lifeline, and we must do all we can to protect them.
Epp is an Environmental Educator and writer, and Past President, Director and Field Trip Coordinator for the Moose Jaw Nature Society. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.