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This Week’s Creature Feature: The Buzz on Bumblebees

Help this native do its pollinating job by avoiding insecticides
This species of bumblebee steals nectar by biting a hole at the base of a flower.
     Our local bumblebees number 20 species. Varying from the size of a honeybee to about an inch long, they are classified by the length of their mouthparts, proboscis and tongue.
     Bumblebees, our native bee, are very important for pollination.
     Bees eat pollen as a protein source and nectar as an energy source. As the nectar thieves collect their pollen, they pollinate the flower. 
     The size of a species’ mouthparts determines how they feed on flowers and what flowers they feed on. Many crawl into the flower. Some use a long tongue to extract the nectar and pollen. A few bite a hole at the base of the flower and extract the nectar from the hole. Because biting the flower allows the bee to avoid the pollination parts of the flower, it is called stealing nectar.
      Each spring, a female queen bumblebee starts a colony, building a nest that will produce 20 to a couple hundred workers and a few new queens. The nests are usually underground but can be in dense plant litter.
      The queen has mated the prior fall and starts making wax chambers for larva. The workers, infertile males, are the first eggs to be laid. Produced later in the year are drones, the fertile males that mate with new young queens to start new colonies.
     Bumblebees are able to withstand colder temperatures than honeybees and exist worldwide, except in Antarctica. They can fly when their body temperature is just above freezing. 
     Unlike the honeybee, bumblebees can sting over and over again. But they are usually very passive, stinging only when in danger or stressed. Most animals avoid adult bees, but skunks know how to invade a developing colony.
     The falling number of bees in recent years is thought to be largely due to insecticide use. By avoiding insecticides, especially on flowers, you help bees survive.