Bumblebee Magic


although it is pouring rain out today, these tough little fuzz balls are out foraging for pollen. They aren’t so tough against insecticides and vanishing habitat.

Bumblebee magic helped Mike and I through another weekend of waiting for conflicting medical information, but the humble bumblebee needs our help, everyone’s help, so it can survive and continue to do its pollination work…..read on…. 

Friday morning I woke up wanting to write about magic and miracles.  I can’t remember why, was it due to a dream? I think it was just my muse knocking on my psychic door, and both subjects have been dancing in my head lately.

An unexpected and disturbing phone call from Mike’s doctor’s office put a tailspin on my thoughts and writing attempts.  My muse was drowned out by frustration, questions and more phone calls. Why was his doctor recommending chemotherapy? Did the second pathology report have differing information? We will find out tomorrow…and we will be getting a second opinion next week.

Definitely put a damper on our weekend. Mike distracted himself by going to see Star Trek. I fumed awhile longer.  But magic came last night as I watched my husband, crouched down, guidebook in hand, get up close and personal with a hundred or so bumblebees in the huge evergreen huckleberry that engulfs our front porch.

Mike recently has taken an interest in bumblebees, they are everywhere in our yard, more than any other year, and we have always had a lot.  After dinner I read to him from my favorite bumblebee book Humblebee Bumblebee by Brian L. Griffin.  For the record, I love bumblebees. I want to pet them. I spend a lot of time trying to photograph them, a challenge as they are always moving and vibrating, and being so furry, they usually end up a blur or simply not there in most photographs. One summer bumblebees stung me twice – because they simple flew into me while I was walking on our sidewalk, a fly way for everything.  I work around them all the time in the yard and have never been stung since. I’ve had bumblebees land on my jeans and just hang out to rest for what seemed like a long time. I think of them as the teddy bears in the world of pollinators.

Last month, while staying at an Ayurvedic health clinic for a week, I intended to stay off the Internet, yet went on-line briefly each day to cast my vote for the bumblebee to appear on a new Endangered Species Chocolate bar. It was a close race and every vote counted!  The bumblebee was a winner! The Xerces Society will receive 10 percent of ESC net profits, a guaranteed contribution of $10,000 annually. This is huge for a small organization.  As a supporter of the Xerces Society, I know how difficult it is to get people to take seriously the importance of protecting insects, especially pollinators.

from the Xerces Society facebook page, the new bumblebee chocolate bar, available in 2014.
from the Xerces Society facebook page, the new bumblebee chocolate bar, available in 2014.

Back to Mike and his furry friends. Bumblebees stay out later than honey bees, perhaps their warm coats enable them to do so, but more likely it is because they can thermal regulate, meaning they can adjust their body temperature to the conditions. The light was dim as Mike ‘stocked’ the busy bees.  Although I know from my experience the difficulties in identifying different species, I did not want to discourage Mike as he intently watched the buzzing bush.  Once you get past the basic differences of black with yellow stripes, or yellow with black stripes, or yellow and black with an orange stripe, the subtleties are too detailed to determine which species you are looking at on a constantly moving specimen! Griffin lists 50 different species in his guidebook.

SO…where is the magic you might ask? The magic is the amazing bumblebee.  One singular mama bee, full of sperm from her pre-hibernation courtships, crawls into a hole, covers herself up, and sleeps away the fall and winter.  She emerges in spring to begin life anew, finds a cozy nest, tenderly cares for her first 8 or so eggs as they become larvae, then pupae, then emerge as her first little brood of daughters, who will help raise more and more daughters, filing the nest hole with a waxen castle of pollen chambers, honey stashes, and new nurseries for new eggs, larva and pupae. (Males come later in the season, their only purpose being for reproduction.)

And how does mama bee feed herself when all alone, starting out? It is critical she keep her young, especially in the larva and pupae stage, warm on cold, early spring days and nights. What if rainy, even snowy, weather prevents her from foraging for pollen?  She creates a tiny little honey pot, placing it between herself and the door of the nest chamber, close enough she can drink from it while on her nest…and she fills it with nectar.  I find this enchanting!

DSC08651My description is brief, I encourage you to read Griffin’s book, it is a short, yet delightful story of these amazing pollinators.  And why do you want to know about bumblebees?  Well, first of all, they are magical! You will enjoy understanding more about their life cycle.  Secondly, they’re survival is threatened, one species is endangered. Thirdly we are very dependent on them, even more so than honey bees.  By reading about them you can learn how easy it is to encourage, protect and provide for these gentle pollinators in your own yard.  At the very least, learn how not to harm them.

And why do we have so many in our yard? We are not very tidy gardeners, hard to do with health challenges and surrounded by an ever encroaching forest. We have areas where so-called ‘weeds’ go to flower, many loved by the bumblebees. A short list of what they like here includes: an early blooming Rhododendron, called “Christmas Rhody” is an early first food for bumblebees; the run amok comfrey in our garden an all-season favorite; holly was also a favorite, but we did cut it down. “True” geraniums, which have seeded all over the place, are covered with bumblebees, as are wild mustard, tenacious buttercup, dame’s rocket, raspberries, and of course the evergreen huckleberry (we’ve planted 9 more, they have some growing to do).  We have several native trees that bloom, I see bumblebees mostly in the cascara. Griffin’s book, and others, list plants you can grow to encourage bumblebees.  It is equally important to learn about their nesting habits. As with all native pollinators, and other friendly insects, a chemical-free, not-too-tidy yard provides diverse habitat.

And yes, I will have more to say about magic and miracles. Nature, and life, is full of both! :o)

Here is a list of articles and resources for learning more about the humble bumblebee: DSC04525_2

The Xerces Society offers a book entitled: Befriending Bumblebees as well as other books on pollinators, butterflies, and more. If you are on Facebook I encourage you to ‘Like’ the Xerces Society page to learn about how bumblebees and other endangered bugs are doing, and how you can help them: Xerces Society

Humblebee Bumblebee was self-published in 1997 by Knox Cellars Publishing Co., a small publishing company in Bellingham WA, started by Brian Griffin and now run by his daughter Lisa. You can buy the book directly from them. They also carry Griffin’s other delightful book on Mason Bees, other books about pollinators, as well as starter kits for raising Mason Bees, etc. They are all about supporting backyard, native pollinators and those wanting to encourage them. Here is their book link: Humblebee Bumblebee, and here is their main site: Knox Cellars. You can also find them on Facebook: Knox Cellars

You can also find the book on Amazon.

Here is one of many articles found in a search about the importance of bumblebees in pollinating crops, and why they are endangered: Bumblebee Loss Threatens Food Security

If you are serious about helping bumblebees and other pollinators you can learn more and sign the pollinator protection pledge on the Xerces Society web site: Pollinators Protection Pledge.