Monday, September 17, 2018

Insect-o-rama

Eleven years ago, as a volunteer for the Conservation Department, I suggested to the Naturalist we should create an event that celebrates insects and spiders. I felt there was a serious need for education on the importance of insects and spiders. I pitched her my ideas and she loved it. After much planning, and organizing our very first Insect-o-rama was launched. It was so successful that for next 10 years we continued with the tradition. A lot has changed in my life in those subsequent years. After 7 years as a volunteer I was employed by MDC as a naturalist. I continued in that position for 6 years before being offered a position at the local Nature Center. I couldn't pass up the opportunity to work for Remington Nature Center, and became their naturalist nearly 3 years ago. The NC embraced Insect-o-rama and allowed me to continue the event.

Every second Saturday in September we invite experts in their fields to share with our visiting guests their various interests. Paul Landkamer, a entomophagy (a big fancy word for someone who enjoys eating bugs) enthusiast brings LOTS, and LOTS of bugs that he has lovingly sauteed, fried, baked, and otherwise prepared for those brave enough to sample some. Over the years I've tried many insects, including June bugs, grasshoppers, cicadas, wheel bugs, mealworms, and even a hornworm. My all time favorite, believe it or not, are the stink bugs! They are crunchy, tasty, little treats that surprised even me with their yummyness!

The worst, by far, was the hornworm. This rubbery, abomination was about as palatable as an old shoe and equally as chewy. I could not drink enough water to wash that thing down and must say most of it ended up in the trash!!! That aside, everything else I've tried was quite good, and certainly healthy. This is a great way to teach people that protein comes in all forms, not just steak and eggs.


Several people I know from the Kansas City area, including Betsy Betros (who wrote an amazing Butterfly book, for the link to order, see the side bar on my blog), Linda Williams, Joyce Bollman, Patty Schulenberg, Lyn & Tom Fry and their daughter Tammy have shared their love of butterflies and moths. Each of these individuals collect eggs, or capture caterpillars and adults to rear in their homes. They use these butterflies and moths, in their various stages of development to set up at events like ours, and also Butterfly festivals at Powell Gardens.
This is one of the most popular exhibits at our event and the tables are always surrounded by individuals in awe of the diversity of these winged creatures. Even in the caterpillar stage they generate a lot of ooooohs and awes, maybe more so!


In years past our local Health Department has set up a wonderful, educational booth on insects that can impact human health. In recent years we've seen a surge in bedbug infestations, and many people have questions about them. Their display includes information on those pesky night time, bloodsucking visitors that have plagued mankind since we first appeared. Do they pose serious health risks to humans? Or are they just a nuisance? They also provided valuable information on mosquitoes and ticks.....all the bugs we love to hate.




  In conjunction with the health department, a local pest control company, Preferred Pest Control, sets up a booth to guide homeowners on the options available for household pests that none of us wants to deal with. This includes, bedbugs, termites and cockroaches, among others. Their booth is always interesting, interactive, and educational and often geared towards children. No fear tactics here! They recognize that not all bugs are bad and enjoy celebrating the good side of insects without spreading "all bugs are bad" misinformation. We love the Cooperiders!They even have a cute termite mascot!!! It doesn't get any better!


The local university, MWSU, gets in on all the fun when their professor of biology/entomology brings numerous students. These awesome young people assist our guests with aquatic dip netting in the pond or lagoon, with microscopes and even an exciting game of cockroach races.

Many of our insects begin life in the water, and later emerge in their adult form, this includes dragonflies, damselflies, mayflies, as well as others. This is a great way to introduce children to the diversity of insect life around them and how important it is to keep our water sources pollution free.

Microscopes offer guests the opportunity to experience minuscule life forms in all their weirdness and awesomeness. They learn how many insects are truly living around them that they will never see with the naked eye. It has been said that every square inch of soil holds some sort of insect life....most we just never see. Cockroach races, face it, are just plain fun! Giant hissing cockroaches are placed in PVC racing troughs and coached and encouraged by our guests to see who will reach the finish line. We've only had a few roaches make a break for it!




















For decades insects have invaded our country from other nations. They make their way to U.S. soil in various ways. Some accidentally and others are purposely brought here with the idea they will control other insects we view as noxious or injurious. Often what happens is these insects wreck havoc on our environment. Several such bugs are destroying trees by the millions all across the Eastern United States. Emerald Ash Borers, Asian Longhorn Beetles, and Gypsy Moths are running amok and taking their toll on ash trees and various other species of trees and plant life. Each year we try to educate our public about the importance of being responsible and not moving firewood. If you cut wood at home, don't transport it too your camping destination in another county or state. Buy your firewood locally. This helps tremendously to cut back  on the level of infestation these insects are capable of.
We borrow a Emerald Ash Borer costume from the USFS and coerce one of our university students with free pizza to dress up and spread the message "Don't move FIREWOOD!"

The Honey Bee is Missouri's state insect and no insect event would be complete without beekeepers. Our local "Swarm Chasers" bee group set up every year and answer the many questions people have about bees. "How do we become beekeepers?" "How much does it cost?" "How difficult is it?" "Where have all the bee gone?" Without bees our ecosystem would collapse and we would have to get used to not having many of the foods we enjoy or depend on. Beekeeping as a hobby has surged in recent years and our local keepers are fantastic at sharing their passion for these important pollinators.

Spiders, Spiders, Spiders.....not everyone's favorite to be sure, but love em' or hate em' they are important members of the ecosystem. They provide free pest control  and gobble up hundreds of tons of insects each year. I had arachnophobia for most of my life. A little over a decade ago I became determined to conquer that fear. I spent four years overcoming my phobia and now I am in love with these 8-legged creatures and own 5 tarantulas! Fears can be managed or even conquered with the right motivation and determination. We've had numerous individuals over the years come into our event with the express purpose of facing a spider and moving one inch closer to getting over a lifelong fear! These are some of my favorite moments, to watch someone go from frozen in fear, to fascination!

Exploration, discovery and education are key to teaching our young people to love and respect nature. Hands-on activities are necessary to make lifelong connections. We can talk, and preach until we are blue in the face, but nothing breaks down barriers faster or more thoroughly than actually holding a tarantula for the first time, or sticking your fingers in pond muck and finding an alien-looking creature that turns out to be a dragonfly baby.
Laughter, as they race cockroaches or, sample some insect fare will stay with them for a lifetime as they look back and say "remember when....?"

Let me encourage you to make your own discoveries. Get outside and explore, get dirty and make memories to last a lifetime.



Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Colorado Insects----Grote's Underwing

Grote's Underwing Moths (Catocala grotiana) belong to the moth family Erebidae. Native to Arizona, Utah, Colorado and other parts out west. Although they are rarely encountered in the Northwest. There are over 250 known species of Underwing moths in this genus and approximately half live in North America, with the lions share being in the United States. The other half are found throughout Europe.
Members of this genus use cryptic coloring to blend into their environment in a perfect bark-like camouflage that makes them virtually impossible to see. If a predator happens upon one, it will flash its brightly colored underwings at the offender, temporarily startling it. Ideally this will allow the moth time to fly away, avoiding being some hungry predators snack.

The one pictured here was found nectaring at the Nodding Groundsel Flowers and photographed around 4:00 in the afternoon. When I posted this picture to Facebook a friend of mine, Eric Eaton  over at Bug Eric commented "What's wrong with this picture?" I was perplexed for a bit as to why he asked that. Then he pointed out this is a nocturnal moth, out during the day, nectaring at flowers. Unusual behavior for a nocturnal moth to be sure, but I would guess this is a night flying moths version of a "midnight snack."

Augustus Radcliffe Grote
These are a medium-sized moth with a wingspan up to 3 inches. The wings are black or charcoal gray with distinct white or pale gray stripes. These markings are key in identification of this species as many underwings look very similar to each other. The underwings are dark red or orange with black lines. They are typically seen in August, and September, but may be around as late as October, weather depending.

Primarily a Mountain Species. 
Grote's Underwings were named to honor a well known, passionate lepidopterists named Augustus Radcliffe Grote. Grote was born in England in 1841 and spent most of his adult life in the America's where he studied, discovered, curated, collected and wrote about Moths and Butterflies. In 1884 he left the United States after selling his extensive and highly valuable collection to the British Museum. He died in Germany in 1903 at the age of 64.


Females will release a pheromone into the air that attracts males from as much as mile away. After mating, the female will seek out Willow, Poplar, Aspen and Cottonwood trees. They are often found near Aspen groves. Females will lay eggs on the bark of the host trees. The eggs will overwinter protected from the cold behind the bark of the tree. In the spring they hatch and make their way to the leaves to munch away until they are ready to pupate. At this time they will make their way to the ground and form a pupal cell under the soil. A few weeks later the adult will emerge. There is most likely only one generation per year.

Sometimes we find the unexpected in the most expected places! 

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Colorado Insects----Hunt's Bumblebee


On a recent trip to Colorado we experienced gorgeous scenery, beautiful temperatures and very little bug life. We rented a cabin in the higher elevations which meant cooler temperatures and very little 6-legged critters scurrying about. We made several trips down the mountain to the lower elevations and spent time near a river called Clear Creek, where we enjoyed relaxing near the rushing water, and in the case of my husband fly-fishing. On one such trip to the river, while my husband fished, I found numerous insects to watch and photograph. One such insect was the Hunt's Bumblebee (Bombus huntsii). I've often seen pictures on the Internet of the yellow, black and orange furred bumblebees and it became a goal of mine to one day see one.....and viola there it was right in front of me sleeping inside a cluster of blooms. I coaxed it out gently so as not to be stung and it nonchalantly climbed onto my hand and hung out with me for quite awhile, seemingly uncaring a huge beast now held her in their hand. Such a trusting little fuzz-butt.



 The Hunts Bumblebee can be found in many different habitats, including prairies, scrubby desert areas, meadows, along roadsides, and streams and even as far up as Mountains and Volcanoes. Although these high altitude (above 3,000 feet) lovers are the more adventurous and tolerant of the species. This would not be a common place to find them. Alongside the river and foraging on the Nodding Groundsel Flowers seemed to be the preferred place for this particular bee and several of her friends, or hive sisters.


With over 3,000 bee species in the United States alone there is no shortage of bees, bumblebees in the genus Bombus make up 40 different species. They are probably the most recognized and under-appreciated of the bees. They are typically larger than other species of bees and covered with an excessive amount of fur that keeps them insulated from cooler temperatures allowing them to be active when most bees are waiting for it to warm up. There is much debate, among scientists, who debate these sorts of things, that bumblebees are much better at pollinating wildflowers than any other species of bees, including our industrious honey bee. 

This species occurs throughout Western North American, including Canada and parts of Mexico. They are most active during the summer and early fall and are considered common in their range. Although there is some indication their numbers are declining, which may be attributed to habitat loss and less flowers to gather pollen and nectar. They are not large by bumblebee standards, where the Eastern Common Bumblebee may reach lengths over an inch, this species is more average in size at a modest 1/2 inch with queens slightly larger at approximately 3/4 of an inch.


 Like almost all bumblebees, they nest underground or hidden away from predators. A bred queen wakes up from hibernation with one thing on her mind, find a home and lay eggs! She will locate an abandoned rodent burrow, wood pile, hay pile or area near the foundation of a building where she will set up house. First job is to create a small honey pot that she will fill with pollen to feed her future brood. Once she has collected plenty of provisions she will lay eggs directly on the mound of pollen and place her body over the eggs to incubate and protect them. She will only leave the nest, at this point, to gather more provisions, if needed.

 In about four weeks the newborn bees begin appearing and their job will be to clean the hive, gather pollen and nectar and take care of the larvae. The queens only job at this point is to lay eggs and grow the hive. While a hive may reach hundreds of individuals, it is more common to have approximately 100-200 members. In the late summer adults will emerge that are males, and virgin females. These future queens will take their maiden flight seeking males. Once mated, the males die and the new queens forage for food until it is time to dig a small chamber that acts as a hibernacula which protects her from the harsh winter weather. In the spring the cycle starts all over again.




The colors on the Hunts Bumblebee are stunningly gorgeous and I am so happy to mark this one off my lifer list of insects. This was such a sweet encounter with the ever humble, bumblebee.

Monday, August 20, 2018

Bellamira Scalaris

Wasp mimics come in all shapes, sizes and colors and this beetle is a fine example of one. This is the longhorn beetle Bellamira scalaris. It has no common name that I could find, so I am assuming little, beyond the basics, is known about them. They do a great imitation of a paper wasp in the genus Polistes....so great in fact that when it dived-bombed my daughter she jumped and swatted at it when it landed on her shirt. I immediately knew it wasn't a wasp and grabbed it before it could get away. I did not expect it to be this particular beetle of which I was not familiar with until this encounter. My daughter thought I was nuts for grabbing something when I had no idea what it was, especially when she was convinced it was packing a stinger.

The family Cerambycidae includes all the longhorn beetles, but this particular species does not possess especially long antennae like many others in this family do. The body is elongated and somewhat bottle-shaped. The wings do not quite cover the abdomen and their coloring is a rich reddish-brown and black with tan and black markings on the wing coverings.

They are a fairly large beetle measuring up to 26 mm (or 1 1/4 inches). Look for adults around flowers where they take nectar. Females deposit eggs on trees such as Alder, Maple, Cottonwood, Willow, Hickory and Pine. Where the larvae feed on the decaying wood. Their range is quite large, and includes Southern Canada, southward to all of the Eastern United States and westward to Texas and South Dakota. Even though their range is extensive, they are rarely encountered, which suggests their numbers do not occur in large enough populations to be noticed readily. Or perhaps most people, at first glance, think they are looking at a wasp and pay them no attention.




Comparison of B. scalaris with paper wasp, sp. polistes.








Seems there are always new bugs to discover, if we just take time to look....or in this case grab...!

Monday, July 30, 2018

Mosaic Round Sand Beetle

Very little information is available on the beetle pictured here. The Mosaic Round Sand Beetle (Omophron tessellatum) is considered common throughout most of the United States and much of Canada as well. I've been photographing and collecting insects for over a decade now and this year was the first I've ever encountered this species.

I had placed a white sheet and mercury vapor light near our creek and an old farrowing house. One night while checking the sheet I noticed an insect on the ground moving rapidly in circles on the ground in some soft loamy dirt. It was such odd, erratic behavior for an insect it caught my attention immediately. I watched it for some time before it occurred to me to catch it and try to identify it. It proved somewhat difficult to catch as it ran quickly under the dirt and scurried away. After several tries I was able to capture it and ID'd it as the Mosaic Round Sand Beetle. There are numerous beetles within this genus, with most of them located in the Northern Hemisphere. Examples of beetles within this genus may be found in North America, South America, Asia and Africa.

These strong burrowers are typically found in sandy areas near creeks, lakes and other water sources, which would explain its presence at the white sheet near the creek. A few species within this genus may be attracted to lights at night and apparently this is one of them. I would assume these are the industrious hunters as they feed on insects both in the adult stage as well as the larval stage. With all manner of insects being attracted by the mercury vapor light it was an all-you-can-eat-buffet for these night time hunters.
Their strong mandibles remind me of the jaws found on tiger beetles and look like they could cause some serious damage to unsuspecting insect prey. They have large bulbous eyes which I assume gives them good eyesight for spotting prey, and with the speed at which they move, catching a moving target wouldn't be too difficult.

It is assumed they spend the winter in the adult stage hiding among leaf litter as well as other protected areas. In the spring mating occurs, but I could find no information on where young are reared or how long it takes for them to complete their lifecycle.

At only 5-7 mm in length, they prove that sometimes the most interesting things come in small packages.


Sunday, July 15, 2018

Pustulated Carrion Beetle

Pustulated Carrion Beetles (Nicrophorus pustulatus) in the family Silphidae are frequent visitors to our farm. I encounter them at the white sheet and MV light sometimes in large numbers. Living on a farm means there is often carrion around. This might be in the form of wild animals like raccoons, or occasionally livestock like a cow or chicken. Carrion beetles, blow flies, rove beetles and an assortment of other carrion loving insects all manage to sniff out the unsavory smell and converge on the carcass in short order. However crowded the dining conditions may be on these carcasses I rarely encounter the Pustulated Carrion Beetle when inspecting the insect life feeding there. I know they are present on the farm, so why aren't they feeding on these resources? Some research revealed that carrion beetles in the genus Nicrophorus  typically locate small, recently deceased carcasses such as mice or birds. They will measure the size of the carcass using their antennae. Once they determine it is of suitable size for their needs, and that they are able to move it, the pair works together to drag it to a nearby location. A hole is dug in the ground from underneath the carcass and it will be slowly buried over the course of a day or two.
 In fact the name Nicrophorus  is a variation of the word Necrophorus, and translates into "Carrier of the dead." Which is an apt description for beetles in this genus.
Hair or feathers are removed before the beetles coat the carcass in protective anal secretions they produce in order to discourage the growth of fungus. Once mated the female will lay eggs within the chamber. The adult pair will feed on the carcass and when the eggs hatch they will coax the tiny grubs to the carcass by using sounds made through stridulation (rubbing their legs together). Larvae are fed masticated bits of anal secretion coated carrion by the parents. Sounds like the stuff of a vomit inducing nightmare, but apparently if you are a carrion beetle this is pretty tasty. They are one of the few beetle genera in the World to exhibit parental care. Litter size is controlled by the parents as well; if they misjudged the size of the carcass and the food source runs low they will begin cannibalizing on the larvae to reduce their numbers so the food does not run out before the offspring can finish their development.

An accidental discovery made by a couple of researchers over a decade ago found these beetles utilizing another resource for rearing their young.....snake eggs. Most specifically black snake (Pantherophis obsoletus) eggs. These researchers were studying communal nesting sites of black snakes when they discovered many, if not most of the nesting sites overrun with pustulated carrion beetles rearing young on the eggs. They published their findings which was picked up on by some individuals who studied beetles within this genus. It helped solve a long held mystery of why this species was no longer found on mouse-sized carcasses in the wild, even though many other species within this genus are. This discovery has encouraged many researchers to study this phenomena within laboratory conditions. Published studies have found that N. pustulatus nearly always chooses snakes eggs over other proffered food sources, like mice carcasses. When offered both snake eggs and mice they will often drag the mouse carcass to the snake eggs, and utilize both food sources. Males produce larger levels of pheromones in response to snakes eggs versus mice or other carrion.
Black rat snake eggs ready to hatch
communal nesting
It is widely known within the herpetology community (at least among those who study snakes) that black snakes in northern climates nest communally and nests may be shared by as many as a dozen females and contain as many as 110 eggs. This phenomena has played out in my own back yard, where I discovered 7 black snakes using an old decaying stump for an egg laying location. I dug up 105 eggs in June that I reburied and later discovered hatching in August. Of the 105 eggs I know at least 76 eggs hatched. I did not find any beetle damage within the nesting site, but since these beetles reside in fairly large numbers on our farm it is only a matter of time before they find this often used communal black snake nesting location.

I would assume these beetles have found other such snake nesting sites on our farm and have used them for a food source. How the beetles locate the snakes eggs is still a mystery and up for much guessing and hypothesis. Do they follow the scent of damaged or decaying eggs? Do they follow the scent of the snakes themselves? Is it happenstance? Research may reveal the secret of how these beetles locate and utilize black snake eggs, but there is an equally good chance it may remain an unsolved mystery of nature.

Newly emerged adult (L)
Recently I found several dozen of these beetles at a MV light I put out at a white sheet to collect insects. There was something unusual about them.....they were brown! I could not decide if they were an odd color form of this beetle or if it is was an entirely different species. I posted pictures to a FB page I belong to and soon had the answer. The brown varieties were newly emerged adults that had not developed their adult color of black with red spots. So much for thinking I had discovered something unique. Why I did not figure this out for myself I still do not know, as I am well aware that insects are lighter in color when they first emerge from their pupal chamber.....cicadas, beetles and cockroaches all are white, light green or very pale. It became apparent we had a mass emergence of new adult Pustulated Carrion Beetles that night.

 These beetles reach lengths up to 20 mm (1 inch) and are black with bright orange or orange-red spots at the edge of the wings near the tip of the abdomen and a spot on either side of the wings. Like all carrion beetles they smell absolutely terrible when handled......after all a life among dead things is not exactly an advertisement for Chanel #5. It takes numerous hand washings to remove that odor, trust me!

N. pustulatus with mites
Many carrion beetles offer transportation for mites from carcass to carcass. This is a mutually beneficial service. When a beetle lands on a carcass.... mites will jump aboard and eat any dead skin cells, fly eggs or other unsavory debris that may be residing there. The beetle buses the mites to the next carcass where they offload and hitch a ride with the next beetle that can offer a buffet of their favorite foods. Sometimes this free ride back fires on the beetle when the mite decides to dine on the eggs of the beetles themselves within the nesting chambers. N. pustulatus is not known to harbor many mites, since they rarely visit the larger carcasses to pick them up. Even small carcasses like mice can be found to have other carrion beetles visiting it and mites can potentially jump ship to other beetles. However since N.pustulatus has virtually stopped using mice as a resource in the wild you will rarely find one with mites. I did however find one feeding at a dead fish several years ago,  it goes to show that there are exceptions to every rule of nature. It was covered in mites!

Carrion beetles, natures little decomposers, are one of the most important components to make up the natural world. They recycle carcasses, removing potentially diseased animals from the environment by feeding on them or using them as a food source for their offspring. This makes the environment healthier for other animals, including humans. The leftover bits and pieces of carrion that the beetles don't use provide beneficial nutrients for soil health. This helps plants thrive.
They may not be the most attractive of insects, and definitely do not hold the same appeal as butterflies, but they have a charm all their own and provide a much needed environmental service that should be respected and appreciated.







Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Hairy Rove Beetle

The Hairy Rove Beetle (Creophilus maxillosus) is one of the most common rove beetles in the Eastern United States. Although common, they are rarely seen as most people would have no interest in being anywhere near where they are likely to be found.....decaying carcasses and piles of dung. You can also,occasionally, find them  under leaf litter, rocks or decaying fruit and vegetation. C. maxillosus is in the Staphylinidae family of beetles and considered, as of the writing of this post, the largest group of beetles in the world. There are 2900, or so, species in North America alone.  At one time weevils had the honor of being the largest group of beetles.

These beetles would be difficult to mistake for any other beetle, even within their own family. They are large by rove beetle standards at 12-23 mm (1/2"-1 1/4") in length. The body is black and covered in creamy-gray or yellowish hair-like setae. Their head and pronotum (area behind the head) are shiny black. Like most rove beetles they have shortened wings that leave the segments of the abdomen exposed. Despite the shortened wings they are strong fliers. They are also rapid runners. They will virtually disappear under a carcass as their flattened bodies allow them to shinny under a body in record time. If you find one and place it away from the carcass it will skitter away quickly and disappear in nearby grasses or other hiding spots.


These beetles overwinter in the adult stage and become active as early as February and remain active until October. After mating the female will lay eggs on a carcass that usually hatch in three days, although this is temperature dependent. If it is warm outside expect the three days (or even less) but if the temperatures drop it could take days longer. The larvae feed on the maggots of flies and as well as other insect larva. The adults also feed on maggots as well as other arthropods.

 Maggots may seem like an unsavory food choice, but a gut loaded maggot is packed with valuable nutrients. These beetles are also helping control fly populations which is helpful to humans.  These beetles are also used in forensics to help determine the amount of time a body has been dead and exposed to the elements. There is some debate however as to how reliable they are as an investigative tool. These beetles show up as soon as maggots are available, but will continue to hang around for as long as it takes for the body to decompose. So this particular species may not be as helpful as other species when solving crimes of murder.

When severely harassed or threatened adults secrete an offensive chemical fluid that repels other insects, especially ants. This is a great way for the beetle to chase competition away from a food source. I didn't notice a smelly chemical cocktail from this beetle, but the overwhelming smell of rotting flesh coming from it was probably overshadowing any other odoriferous smell emanating from it. Another defensive trick up their 6 little legs is to roll into a ball, much like a pill bug. Their hard exoskelton protects them from many insect predators that might try to feed on them. If you are rolled into a nice tight ball like an armadillo you are protecting your delicate underside from biting insects. Some people claim they have a sharp bite, and with large mandibles like they possess, it would be easy to see how they would. Still other sources claim they do not bite. My experience with this particular beetle was a positive one, even though I handled her numerous times.


Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Common Eastern Bumblebee

Eastern bumblebees (Bombus impatiens) are one of the most common of all the approximately 50 species of bumblebees that live in North America. The genus name Bombus comes from the Greek word bombos which translates into "a buzzing sound". It is easy to see how they earned this name, as anyone can attest who has been around these large bees, their wings make a loud humming sound that would be hard to mistake for any other species of insect.

Easily recognized by their furry black and yellow bodies, these large (up to 1 inch) bees are one of the first bees spotted in early spring. Because of their ability to withstand much colder temperature than other insects it isn't uncommon to see them on sunny days in the upper 40's or 50's. Many species of bumblebees cannot fly unless their flight muscles are at least 80 degrees. They have developed several adaptations allowing them to accomplish this even in colder weather. On bright spring days they will find a sunny spot to bask, much like a snake would do, soaking up the suns rays until they are warm. They can also disengage their flight muscles, giving them the ability to vibrate those muscles without flapping their wings. By doing this they can elevate the temperature of those muscles allowing them to fly.

Early spring brings out the young queens that bred late the previous autumn. They are looking for places to set up homestead and often use old rodent burrows or other existing holes in the ground. They may also use hollow stumps or logs or occasionally man-made structures. Once she has found a suitable site she will begin foraging for nectar and pollen and fill the burrow with provisions. Once she is satisfied there is plenty of food she will begin laying eggs on the food pile and use her warm body to incubate the eggs, much like a bird does her eggs. Once these eggs hatch she will feed, clean and care for them until they reach adulthood. All of her offspring will be sterile female workers that will spend their adult life caring for all additional offspring of the queen. At this point the queens only job is to lay eggs and grow the colony. In the fall the queen will lay eggs that develop into fertile females and males. Once they reach adulthood they will leave the colony searching for mates. Once mated, males will die and females will look for places to hide away from the cold winter weather. Typically they will hide under leaf litter on the ground or within logs or stumps. Once spring returns the newly emerged young queens will start the cycle all over again.

Bumblebees, unlike honey bees do not gather nectar and pollen for future storage. Because they create new colonies each year there is no need to store food, instead all food gathered by the workers is to feed themselves, the queen and the offspring of the queen. A large colony of bumblebees would be around 150 bees, although some overly productive colonies may have up to 1,000 individuals living in it.

Honey bees are easily the most popular of all the pollinators, and this is largely due to the agricultural industry promoting their value to crop pollination. While there is no denying they are hugely valuable for the pollinating service they provide, they are long lived and easily transported to various locations, they however come in second to the pollinating abilities of the Humble Bumble Bee.
Bumble bees are stronger, faster fliers and are capable of visiting more flowers per minute than the HB. Because of their tolerance of colder temperatures they are able to be active pollinating on days that may keep HB's grounded. Bumble bees also have longer tongues than HB which allows them to reach deep into the long throats of tubular flowers. BB's also have much larger pollen sacks than HB's which means they can carry more pollen from flower to flower in a much more efficient manner than their distant cousins.

Even though bumble bees are excellent pollinators and should be encouraged in our backyard gardens or agricultural areas, it is hard to convince those that are afraid or allergic to bees to do so. It is easy to understand why, allergic reactions are nothing to mess with and can be life threatening. Even if you aren't allergic, a sting from one of these bees is painful!! Unlike honey bees which can sting once before dying for their efforts, bumble bees can sting numerous times. They are known to follow a potential predator for long distances chasing the threat away from the hive. My husband found this out when he was in his teen years. While working around a small farm his parents owned they inadvertently disturbed a bumble bee hive and dozens of worker bees were chasing them and stinging them before they knew what was happening. My husband took a sting right between the eyes that swelled his eyes shut. A few years later while riding his motorcycle a bumble bee made it's way into his shirt and stung him 5 times before he could finally kill it by hitting himself in the chest in the general direction of where he could feel the bee moving around and drilling him with an oversized stinger inside his shirt. Needless to say he has a love/hate relationship with all bees.....mostly hate. While foraging on plants they are generally harmless and only sting if provoked. If you start swatting at them, it will most likely earn you a sting, and rightfully so. Their first instinct is going to be to protect themselves, and they will do this the only way they know how.


 Sometimes when I am working in the garden and I get too close to one of these busy little bees they will raise a leg at me, and while it looks like they are greeting me with a friendly wave. This little leg wave is actually a warning that I am too close and making them nervous. I move way giving them space and we all get along just fine.




Several years ago while visiting a local conservation area we noticed honey bees and bumble bees both visiting flowers.... looking for any nectar available so late in the season; which happened to be thistle blooms. The much smaller honey bees would fly toward the bumble bees and bounce off them with their legs and bite at them with their mandibles. They kept bombing the Bombus over and over trying to claim the flowers for their own. The bumble bees were no more bothered by their actions than we humans are when swatting at a pesky gnat. The bumble bees seemed to know they were large and in charge and couldn't care less that the honey bees were trying to bully them.

Prior to 1920 bumble bees were called humble bees and it is assumed they earned this name from the humming sound their wings make when buzzing around. After 1920 a few scientists who wrote articles in scientific magazines called them bumble bees and the name stuck. They have been called bumble bees ever since. I personally wish they were still called Humble Bees, especially given the fact that honey bees are getting all the love these days, and they are often overlooked. They humbly work in our gardens and agricultural fields often being passed over in favor of a non-native bee with better PR.