Today I want to focus on one important group of bee pollinators- the bumble bee.
There are 47 species of bumble bees in North America. Bumble bees live in colonies that are founded by a single queen each spring. The queen will create nests in abandoned animal nests, tree cavities, inside used bird houses, or other discarded but dry cavities.
The queen creates little wax pots inside the nest where she puts nectar and pollen and then lays an egg. When the eggs hatch, larvae emerge. For a month or so the larvae consume the food and grow, then pupate and become the adults we recognize. These first adults are all daughters, who then work to expand the nest and provision offspring while the queen continues to lay eggs.
In autumn, the queen produces males and more queens. The males and queens leave the nest to mate. Only new queens survive by hibernating each winter, the rest of the colony dies.
Bumble bees are important for many reasons. Being large bees, they can fly a mile or more from their nests to forage, thus potentially cross pollinating more crops. They will often forage earlier in the spring than the honey bee in damp, cool weather. This is important for early flowering crops. They are also capable of performing "buzz" pollination, which is where they buzz next to a flower in a middle C musical note to cause the flower to release its pollen. This is especially effective for plants like tomato that are generally self-pollinated and thus need to be jostled by wind or insects in some way to transfer the pollen from anther to stigma.
So what can you do to help the bumble bee?
Try to identify habitat by noticing bees flying around an area that lacks flowers. This tells you they aren't foraging.
Next protect that habitat by not disturbing it. If they are in a snag (a dead standing tree) don't cut it down. If they are in the ground, don't till.
Provide them with food by planting flowering annuals and perennials that have overlapping bloom time so there is always something to eat. Native plants are best, because bumble bees have evolved along with these plants.
Lastly, remember that using insecticides on your property can kill them directly when exposed, or indirectly when bees consume toxin covered pollen and nectar.
Remember, we are dependent as a species on pollinators. Without their valuable services, we wouldn't have anything to eat.