In May, queen bumble bees are buzzing

Holy Wisdom Monastery Care for the Earth, Friends of Wisdom Prairie Leave a Comment

By Julie Melton, Friends of Wisdom Prairie Council

Rusty-patched bumble bee

That large, flying insect you that just buzzed by you was likely a queen bumble bee on a survival mission. She might be the endangered rusty-patched bumble bee looking for a suitable nest site, finding flowers to feed herself, and constructing a nest. She is the original single parent. Last fall she mated with a male bumble bee. Then she fortified herself with nectar and pollen so that she could survive the winter. Everyone else in her colony and all the males died. She and other potential queens were left to form this year’s colonies. 

Bumble bee queens are single-minded. Everything depends on them. They cruise close to the ground to find the best nest spot. It may be an abandoned rodent den, a clump of grasses, or some human-made structure with a cavity. She flies in and out of different holes until she chooses one. All the while she is visiting spring flowers for energy from nectar and protein from pollen. 

In the nest, she builds a waxen honey pot to hold nectar. She makes another small wax cup and fills it with pollen moistened with nectar. This is where she lays her first eggs. When young bumble bees hatch, they are larva. They eat the pollen around them for two weeks. Then they spin a silken cocoon. After two weeks female adult bees emerge from the pupae. These first worker bumble bees appear in early June. They are smaller than the next brood which will have the benefit of more flower species. Now the queen can stay in the nest laying eggs which will become more workers, up to 400 hundred of them. The workers forage. They tend the young. They defend the nest, and even regulate its temperature.

All bumble bees rely on a steady diet of pollen and nectar throughout the season, but only workers collect it and return to the nest. The ability to ‘buzz’ pollinate makes them very effective. They can use their wings to literally shake the pollen onto body hairs that carry it. You can easily see pollen covering special hairs on their back legs. 

Bumble bees species have evolved with the different native plant species like the ones growing at Holy Wisdom. Long tongues bees are adapted to flowers like shooting stars. Short or medium length tongues better suited to more open flowers like spiderwort. 

The rusty-patched bumble bee has been seen at Holy Wisdom. It is the first pollinator to be listed under the Endangered Species Act. It has disappeared from 85% of its habitat. By caring for the earth, we are helping keep the rusty-patched bumble bee from extinction. This year we decided not to have honey bees on the property because some researchers believe that these non-native bees may outcompete bumble bees for food resources or introduce disease. 

We all can care for creation by doing three simple things at home or in our neighborhoods:

  1. Grow some native plants.
  2. Leave un-mowed areas for nesting.
  3. Keep pesticides and herbicides away from these areas.

The bees and birds will thank you. 

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