All bumble bees belong to the genus Bombus (a name which is almost as delightful as Troglodytes applied to a wren).
Bumble bees are vital within our ecological systems. They are the best pollinator for some important crops (they don’t depend on particular flowers, but some flowers depend on or are best served by them), and they outperform honeybees in colder conditions.
They are great neighbours! But more than one quarter (28%) of all North American bumble bees are facing some kind of extinction risk due to habitat loss, disease, pesticide use, and climate change. A recent research report charts a decline of 57% in the western bumble bee (Bombus occidentalis) between 1998 and 2020.
Bumble bees are under serious threat, but there are things we can do to help them.
What can you do?
Give them habitat
Bumble bees are cavity nesters, and don’t generally occupy nests for more than one year. They do no damage because they don’t create cavities or chew wood, they just use the spaces they find. If you find one and can, leave it alone—they’ll be gone after the summer.
Although they prefer abandoned rodent burrows and tree cavities, they also like to nest in brush piles, so consider leaving those if you can do so in a way that doesn’t increase wildfire risk. Where possible, leave leaf litter in your garden and let it build up over time; incorporate bunch-forming ornamental grasses.
Give them food
Bumble bees can be active from February till November, so early- and late-season resources are critical. Plant early- and late-flowering species, grow pollinator-friendly flowers generally, and don’t mow that lawn! Or at least hold off for a couple of months, or designate a meadow patch for the bees and other pollinators.
by reporting sightings to Bumble Bee Watch.
At bcnativebees.org/apidae, xerces.org/bumblebees, and bumblebeeconservation.org.
3 Fun Facts about Bumblebees
- Bumblebees are the only truly social North American bees, living in colonies with different divisions of labour. (Honeybees are an import.) BC has more bees than any other province, including 32 bumble bee species. You can get a species checklist for the bumble bees of British Columbia at UBC’s E-fauna page.
- Unlike honeybees, they store just enough food to feed their colonies for a couple of days at a time. They don’t need more because they all die off in the fall—except for the new queens that hatch in autumn, who mate and then sleep through the winter.
- Some flowers—like those of tomatoes, potatoes, and blueberries—don’t have easily accessible pollen. Bumble bees grab the flowers in their jaws and vibrate their wing muscles to dislodge pollen, which they collect in their pollen baskets and all over their fuzzy little bodies. That’s the high-pitched buzz you hear them make on some kinds of flowers.
Meet the Neighbours
This article is part of an occasional “Meet the Neighbours” series written to tell you about some of the critters (and plants) that we share our island with. If you’d like to learn more about how to be a good neighbour by preserving habitat for native species on your own property, visit our Nature Stewards page.