Saturday 14 May 2011

Saturday 14th May

Bumblebees are the topic for today since they are very important and interesting little creatures even if they are not everyone’s favourite insect. You will have probably seen quite a lot of large bees and wasps, the queens, flying around trying to find a convenient place to start their hive. I know I have seen plenty around the estate. For bumblebees this will be either below ground in old mouse holes or in thick vegetation like grass tussocks. They mated last year and will have stored the sperm inside their bodies during their winter hibernation ready to use it in spring to fertilise their eggs. You will see them drinking nectar and collecting pollen to feed their larvae which will eventually turn into female workers and later on near the end of summer the queen will start producing males and queens. 
Bumbleebees emerging from the nest
There are 24 species of bumblebee in the UK of which six are listed under the UK Biodiversity Action Plan as they are in urgent need of help. Another two species have very fragmented and small populations, one of which is the Great Yellow and only occurs around north and west Scotland. Three species have already become nationally extinct in the UK in the last 70 years and most of the other species are declining. It is fair to say that bumblebees are not doing so well and the reason being is primarily down to changes in agricultural practices. Since the World War 2 we have lost over 97% of our wildflower meadows and the increased use of herbicides and pesticides have not helped the situation. But why is this important?

Bumblebees are incredibly hard workers and are very important and play a vital role in pollinating wildflowers and certain crops. Together insect pollination is worth over £400 million to the economy. Without bumblebees we would lose many wildflower species and fruit and vegetables prices would likely soar. You can help by planting native wildflowers in your garden rather than cultivated plan to like busy lizzies or scented geraniums which have either no nectar or pollen or are too hard to get to by bees. Please do not be tempted to go out and pick wildflowers in the countryside as it is against the law to uproot wildflowers without the land owner’s permission and in some cases to even collect seeds or uproot them even with the land owner’s permission. More information on this can be found in the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. You could have up to a dozen different species of bee in your garden if you have a good variety of food plants for them which in turn will be great for other insects, birds and animals.

Just to sum up with a few little bits of interesting information that you may not know about bumblebees. They do produce honey but in very small amounts so it cannot be harvested by humans. They also have ‘smelly feet’. When they visit a flower they leave a chemical scent which tells other bees not to waste time and energy on that flower as a bee has already taken the nectar. Different species also have different tongue lengths so they are adapted for pollinating and feeding out of different plants. And finally the cuckoo bumblebee is parasitic and will invade a nest of a specific bumblebee species. She will then either kill or evict the queen and take over the workers, making them raise her young. This behaviour is similar to the cuckoo bird which removes the eggs of another birds nest, lays its eggs in their place and then leaves the nest owner to raise its young.

Cuckoo bumblebee

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