Native Pollinators: A Close Up Look at The Humble Bumble Bee …

July 7th, 2011 § 1 comment

Bumble Bee on Veronica spicata ‘Sunny Border Blue’ (Speedwell)

Now that summer is in full-swing, my garden is just buzzing; filled with pollinators of all kinds. And on warm, sunny mornings, the Wildflower Walk literally hums with the sound of bumble bees. This fuzzy, sweet-looking insect is rarely aggressive and only stings when it is threatened with harm. Like honeybees, bumble bees are very important pollinators of our agricultural crops and wild plants. But unlike the naturalized, European honeybee, our North American native bumble bee does not keep substantial quantities of honey in its hive. Because they only store enough food to support the colony for a couple of days, bumble bees must continuously forage when not in hibernation. All bees, including the bumble bee, are extremely sensitive to pesticides —including organic insecticides— and their health and welfare, so directly tied to our own, is critically dependent upon responsible garden and farm practices.

Bumble bees visit many kinds of flowers throughout the growing season. But like all pollinators, bumble bees do prefer some blossoms more than others. When certain plant species are blooming —particularly Ajuga reptans, Veronica, Salvia and Lespedeza— my garden is literally buzzing with activity. Like honeybees, bumble bees are very effective pollinators; gathering from one or two species at a time (this behavior is known as constancy, and it’s key to the pollination of fruits and vegetables we humans depend upon). Bumble bees and other bees communicate with one another in various ways. Ever wonder how a bee knows where to go for food? Bumble bees actually let one another know which flowers have already been visited by marking those blossoms with scent. These fascinating insects have a language all their own; one we are only just beginning to understand …

When I snapped the photo above —amused by the sight of a bumble bee raising one of its middle legs— I thought perhaps it was stretching. Surprise, surprise! I recently learned that this is a defensive behavior. The bumble bee was warning me to back off, because I (and my camera lens) got too close for comfort!

Recently, while out capturing images of early morning bumble bees visiting the blue Speedwell (Veronica spicata ‘Sunny Border Blue’) along the Wildflower Walk, I noticed a bee raising one of its middle legs. It struck me as amusing, and as I came in closer for a shot, the bee extended its leg even further; looking a lot like a karate kick! After downloading the photos, curiosity got the better of me and —doing a bit of research on the fantastic bumblebee.org website— I discovered that by raising its leg, the bumble bee was actually trying tell me that I’d come a bit too close for its comfort. The bee wanted me to move away, but ignorant of its social cues, I came even closer! What I thought a fascinating experience was actually quite unpleasant for the bee, and it was striking a defensive pose. Sorry friend! I’ll pay much closer attention to your signals next time.

Do you enjoy listening to the hum of bumble bees on a summer day? Invite these native pollinators into your garden by providing a steady supply of blossoms throughout the growing season. Some early blooming spring flowers for bumble bees: Salix discolorHamamelis vernalis, Hamamelis x intermediaVacciniumViburnumCercisPierisEnkianthusAjuga reptans, CrocusRhododendron and spring blooming Erica and Calluna. And to attract bumble bees later in the season, try planting some of the following summer and fall blooming flowers for bumblers: Lupine, Aquilegia, Nepeta, Aesculus, CornusVeronica, Asclepias species, Perovskia, Lespedeza thunbergii, Clethera alnifolia, Hamamelis virginiana, Itea virginica, Sedum, Asteraceae, Monarda, Agastache, Penstemon, Lavendula, Mentha, Allium, Stachys, Althea (single flowered), Lavendula, Valeriana, Salvia, Thymus and most other herbs. Check out the links below for more flower lists and information on supporting bees of all kinds in your garden…

For more fascinating information about the humble bumble, visit the bumblebee.org website by clicking here.

And for information on the honeybee, and other bees —plus great tips and useful information for supporting all pollinators— visit thehoneybeeconservancy.org by clicking here.

Photographs and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina/The Gardener’s Eden. All photographs, articles and content on this site, (with noted exceptions), are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Thank you!

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§ One Response to Native Pollinators: A Close Up Look at The Humble Bumble Bee …

  • John says:

    I believe it attracts honeybees, Calamintha nepetoides: very fragrant, covered with tiny white flowers in late summer, more bees per square foot than any other plant I have seen. I have two each of two types, one bushier, the other more low-growing. The bees will not bother you because they will be too busy working the plant.

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