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It’s National Pollinator Week!

June 22, 2010

June 21-27, 2010, is National Pollinator Week!  To check for events in your area, take this link and scroll down to the “Events in U.S. Region” section to find your state.

Then, get to celebratin’ those pollinators who do so much for us!

If you’re feeling crafty, show your support for native bees by making and installing a bee house or two around your home or garden (especially around your garden, and especially if your garden is free of pollinator-unfriendly pesticides)!

An excellent resource with ideas on creating native bee nesting habitat (for wood-nesting, cavity-nesting, and ground-nesting bees, as well as bumblebees) can be found at this Xerces Society page — just click the green “fact sheet” link for a pdf with detailed instructions.

Three cheers for pollinators!  Happy Pollinator Week, everyone!

Wild Bumblebees in Danger

January 27, 2010

Rusty-patched bumblebee (Bombus affinus) on Monarda sp. Photo by Johanna James-Heinz at BugGuide.net.

Throughout the spring, summer, and fall of 2009, in both New York and Virginia, I witnessed dying bumblebee after dying bumblebee: on sidewalks, in the grass, on automobiles — everywhere.  Friends reported seeing the same thing, and regularly asked me, What’s happening to the bumblebees?

We may now know: wild bumblebees may be falling prey to diseases spread from commercially-raised bumblebees which are employed in greenhouses for pollination of crops like hothouse tomatoes, peppers, and strawberries.

Commercially-raised bumblebees are actually a native American species (Bombus impatiens) that was exported to Europe and is now reared at two European facilities (here and here), then imported to the United States for agricultural use.

It is thought that some commercially-raised bumblebees carry diseases picked up from European relatives.  When the commercially-raised bumblebees are put to work pollinating greenhouse crops in the U.S., they often escape the greenhouses and come into contact with — and potentially spread infection to — wild native bumblebees, which have little resistance to the European diseases.  Any infected native bees that are then moved within the U.S. serve to spread the disease further.

(Aside: Why are we outsourcing the rearing of native American bees to European countries?  This just seems… strange.  And typical of these times.)

At least four species of wild American bumblebees are edging toward extinction: the Franklin’s bumblebee (Bombus franklini) and Western bumblebee (Bombus occidentalis) in the Western US, and the rusty-patched bumblebee (Bombus affinis) and yellow-banded bumblebee (Bombus terricola) in the Eastern US.

Wildlife conservation groups are calling for new regulations on commercially-reared bumblebees:

The Xerces Society, the Defenders of Wildlife and the Natural Resources Defense Council have asked the Agriculture Department’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to block the movement of commercially raised bees outside their native ranges, and to require bee rearers, through permits, to show that their insects are disease-free. A spokesman said the agency is reviewing the request. (Adrian Higgins, Washington Post, January 13,2010)

Sad, sad times for bees of all stripes, my friends.

But kudos and thanks to the Xerces Society and others for drawing the attention of the government and the public to this issue!


A Little Bee Humor

November 3, 2009

This is honeybee humor, not wild bee humor, but this comic from Abstruse Goose made me laugh out loud (despite the gender mix-up), and I felt compelled to share it.

Thanks, Tim, for sending it my way!

The bee has quit the clover…but not the goldenrod

September 26, 2009

2009_09_26_P9250080_fav_vert

From “The Long Trail” by Rudyard Kipling:

There’s a whisper down the field where the year has shot her yield,
And the ricks stand grey to the sun,
Singing: “Over then, come over, for the bee has quit the clover,
And your English summer’s done.”

This week brought the autumnal equinox (September 22), so by the calendar, at least, our New York summer is done (what there was of summer, that is).  But these Eastern Bumble Bees (Bombus impatiens) haven’t yet quit the goldenrod (Solidago spp.) or the New England aster (Symphyotrichum/Aster novae-angliae).  For a while more, we can pretend that scarf-and-mitten weather isn’t just around the corner.

2009_09_26_P9250042_fav_cropLove that proboscis!

2009_09_26_P9250049_favThis particular bee did quit the Solidago.

NATURAL HISTORY INFORMATION

Date/Time: 25 September 2009 between 4:30 and 5:30 PM

Location: Cornell Plantations, Ithaca, NY, USA.

Observation: I observed Bombus impatiens drinking nectar and resting on Solidago spp. (goldenrod) and Symphyotrichum/Aster novae-angliae (New England aster).  The bees appeared to be male, and gathered no pollen.  Many thanks to John Ascher of the AMNH and BugGuide.net for the species ID!

Photographs by Laurie Evanhoe

Smart move, BrightSource

September 21, 2009

Very, very, very happy about this: BrightSource Energy has dropped its plans for a 5,130 acre solar energy facility near Broadwell Dry Lake in the Kelso Dunes Wilderness just north of Ludlow, CA — a hop, skip, and a jump from my field sites in the Mojave National Preserve.

The decision was no doubt influenced by California Senator Diane Feinstein’s proposal to create a new national monument — protected from solar development — stretching between Joshua Tree National Park and the Mojave National Preserve, and including the Broadwell Dry Lake area.

Now, if BrightSource would only relocate the huge solar development they’ve got planned for the Ivanpah Valley (near Primm, NV, on the Nevada-California border).  Without question, we need solar energy development in this country.  But we need to be smart about where and how we do it.  Why not take it to already-degraded lands in the Mojave, or in the Central Valley?  Why destroy pristine lands in federal wilderness?

Sigh.  Keep those fingers crossed for that new national monument.

Clarification: Perspectives on Saving Bees

September 19, 2009

A clarification of my recent post on Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), in which I summarized what is known about the causes of CCD:  CCD is a phenomenon unique to honeybees, and the picorna-like viruses reported by May Berenbaum and colleagues affect only honeybees (Apis mellifera).  However, native bee numbers are dwindling worldwide, and pesticide exposure and habitat/food resource loss threaten the health of all pollinators.

Just wanted to clear up any confusion…  Ah, the challenges of being one’s own editor.  Sometimes, the statement you think you’re making is quite different from the one your audience hears!  Mea culpa.

Enjoy the weekend, everyone!

Life of a Queen

September 16, 2009

Another post in the Practical Advice series is in the works: Everything I Wish I Had Known About Pan-Trapping Before I Began a 5-Year Project Involving Pan-Trapping.  Or something like that.

In the meantime, enjoy this poem by Lisel Mueller, winner of a Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.  Yes, I know, I know, it’s a honeybee poem, and this is a wild bee blog.  But it’s a good bee poem.  And there’s no harm in posting a good bee poem, methinks.

LIFE OF A QUEEN

CHILDHOOD

For two days her lineage is in doubt,
then someone deciphers the secret message.
They build a pendulous chamber
for her, and stuff her with sweets.

Workers keep bringing her royal jelly.
She knows nothing of other lives,
about digging in purple crocus
and round-dances in the sun.

Poor and frail little rich girl,
she grows immense in her hothouse.
Whenever she tries to stop eating,
they open her mouth and force it down.

THE FLIGHT

She marries him in mid-air;
for a moment
he is ennobled, a prince.

She gives the signal
for their embrace;
over too soon.  O, nevermore.

Bruised, she drags herself from
his dead body,
finds her way back exhausted.

She is bathed, curtains are drawn.
Ten thousand lives
settle inside her belly.

Now to the only labor she knows.
She remembers
nothing of him, or their fall.

THE RECLUSE

They make it plain
her term is over.
No one comes;
they let her starve.

The masses, her children,
whip up sweets
for a young beauty
who is getting fat.

Nothing to do.
Her ovaries paper,
her sperm sac dust,
she shrivels away.

A crew disassembles
her royal cell.
Outside, a nation
crowns its queen.

From Life of a Queen by Lisel Mueller, 1970

Sooo… Mueller glosses over the fact that, at the beginning of the queen’s life, when she first emerged from her queen cup, she singlehandedly killed any and all rival young queens in the colony, destroying them in their cells as they developed, or fighting them to the death in one-on-one combat…

… and the fact that on her mating flight, the queen mated not with one male, but many, many males –12-15 on average…

… and the fact that, at the end of her life, after the “young beauty” emerged to replace her in the supersedure process, the old queen’s worker children crowded around her, forming a ball of hot bodies, overheating her, bringing her death.  That, or the new queen herself came to claim the old queen’s life.

I argue, though, that while the life of a honeybee queen is not something to be envied, Lisel’s Mueller’s poetic voice is.

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