Thursday, May 7, 2009

Bumble Bees

There are over 50 known species of bumble bees in North America. Most of us are familiar with these fuzzy fat pollinators. They are a common sight among flower beds and gardens throughout Missouri as well as all of the United States. Each spring I spot the first bumbles in the middle of April as the weather starts to warm. These are the young queens that have overwintered in some obscure shelter, hidden away from the harsh winter weather. These new queens will be searching for proper areas to build their hive, and for food. Often times they will dig out an underground cavern and lay their eggs in the cells they create. Sometimes they will use hollow trees, or old buildings. After securing a home base she will then seek food for her offspring. The food that she gathers will be used to store within the hive in little "honey pots." It is this store of food that she will survive upon and feed her young with. She alone will feed these new larva, and she will not leave them, they must be kept at a constant temperature and she uses her body to provide the correct warmth (30 degrees celsius). Once they have pupated and matured into the adults we all know and recognize, these new bumble bees will then take over the hive duties and the queens job will be egg production. These new workers will be sterile females, they will not mate. They instead will gather pollen and nectar for the growing brood and will guard the hive and perform other hive duties. Late in the season the queen will lay eggs that will be males. Once these eggs have hatched and the little grubs have fully developed the queen will mate with these male offspring. The resulting eggs from this union are destined to be fertile females capable of mating. These young females will mate at the end of the warm season, usually in the fall. As the weather turns colder the colony will die, with exception to the young mated queens. These will find shelters to overwinter and the cycle will begin again with the return of spring. For the past week I've seen several of these bees buzzing around our flower beds. They have been nectaring at the honeysuckle, wild plums and crabapple blooms. Generally speaking these foragers are not aggressive. This year I have noticed a difference in their behavior, they seem much less tolerant of my presence, I've been dive bombed several times. Although I have not been stung, it is intimidating to have them come right at you with those loud humming wings and a very angry attitude. I stand my ground and they give up the pretence. I've also found several hives on our property. While I've walked the boundaries of our land I have noticed these bees hovering close to the ground, then they land, and disappear underground. Within a few minutes they return to the surface and fly off. I know of 6 potential hives. Seems we will have a busy bunch of buzzing bumble bees soon (say that fast 3 times, hehehe). Most of us have heard that if a honey bee stings you, it will die. This is absolutely true, they have a barbed stinger that comes detached after penetrating your skin, this in effect rips their guts out and they perish. Bumble Bees on the other hand do not have a barbed stinger, therefore they are able to sting numerous times. It would be a very unpleasant experience to have a large bumble bee mad at you. In mid summer you will see an increase in the number of these bees, this is due to the fact that the males (drones) have appeared on the scene. They are actively seeking mates and foraging in our gardens. DON'T PANIC" This increase in numbers will cause you no harm, they are unable to sting, drones possess no stinger. Don't let the presense of these large bees keep you from enjoying your outdoor activities. Truthfully unless you disturb the hive or act aggressively towards them you have nothing to fear, they do not wish to have a confrontation anymore than you do. Remain calm and motionless and chances are they will pay you no mind at all.

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