[NAFEX] bumble bee as pollinator

Mark Lee markl at nytec.com
Mon Apr 21 11:33:11 EDT 2003

Orchard mason bees seem to get alot of attention in the gardening press.  I
think it is time bumble bees get some respect, too.  Here's my story to
explain why...

I have been trying to solve a mystery in the micro-orchard in my backyard.
What insect is responsible for pollinating my fruit trees?

I live in Seattle.  The past two springs have been incredibly wet and
"cold".  It didn't snow this year in town, so by the standards of other
areas, Seattle has pretty mild weather.  But in my backyard in mid-April,
the apple trees have yet to bloom.  Cherries and pears are blooming now, but
no honey bees are in sight.  Except for a few flies and yellow jackets,
almost no insects are buzzing around my yard.

I have been studying my fruit tree blooms, but I have not observed any bugs
landing on the them... until yesterday evening.  The temperature was
somewhere between 50'F-55'F.  It was between rain showers.  I was weeding
near a cherry tree.  I heard a load buzzing in the tree, so I looked up.  I
saw a native bumble bee, Bombus occidentalis, foraging the cherry blossoms.
I had never before seen bumble bees visiting the fruit tree blooms, but I
hadn't paid much attention to them in the past.  This bumble bee was fuzzy
black with a yellow stripe on its back, and was huge, probably a queen.

I don't know much about bumble bees, except that they are gentle.  I have
disturbed many of these from their resting places in the weedy sections of
my yard, but never have I been stung.  I decided to do a little research
into this bee.  At this site,
http://www.pollination.com/Managed_Bees_HTML/Bumble_Bee_HTML/bumblebee.htm ,
I learned
"Queens emerge from their winter resting stage, called diapause, each spring
and begin foraging for nectar and pollen. Bumble bees hold pollen on their
hind legs like the honeybee. The queen uses the collected pollen and nectar
to rear workers.... Bumble bees are currently used commercially for
pollination of greenhouse tomatoes and peppers.... Research has shown that
bumble bees are also effective pollinators of orchard crops such as almonds,
apples and cherries."
>From another site,
I learned that bumble bees have a longer work day than honey bees, and start
pollinating around 55'F even if it's wet.  Why do they work so hard?
"Bumble bees are diligent foragers because each day they must replenish food
stores daily or temporarily starve, and they start foraging each day before
honeybees can reduce the amount of accumulated nectar per flower".  Work
hard or starve... that seems to be a good motivator.  God Save the Queens!

-Mark Lee, Seattle, zone 7b/8a

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