At least 31 species of bumblebees call British Columbia their home. Bumblebees are pollinators, using pollen and nectar as food sources and in the process helping a plethora of flowering plants to reproduce. On farmland in Delta, bumblebees benefit farmers by pollinating several crops including strawberry, tomato, blueberry, raspberry, cranberry, zucchini, squash and pumpkin.
Bumblebees build colonies and feed on clover in Grassland Set-asides, and also use flowering Hedgerow plants for gathering food. The queen starts the spring alone, choosing an old rodent burrow, a clump of vegetation, or another location as a site for her colony.
At first she lays eggs and harvests the pollen and nectar herself; after a few weeks if she is successful her daughters (worker bees) will do the food collection while she stays in the colony. Pollen is high in protein and is fed to larvae as they grow and develop into adult bees. Once grown, bumblebees do not need much protein and can survive off sugar-rich nectar.
After a summer of only laying sterile daughter eggs, the queen lays eggs that develop into male drones and future queens. The short-lived males fly about in a wandering, unstructured way, feeding on nectar as they go, and mate with any new queens they can. In the fall, the males, old queens, and worker bees die while only the new queens survive throughout the winter, in a state of torpor (hibernation).
Throughout the summer, small quantities of honey are used as a food source for the bumblebee colony. However, unlike honeybees which produce enough honey to sustain the hive over winter, bumblebees need only produce enough to allow the queen bee to survive the season.
Below: Bumblebees using an old bird’s nest as a hive in a Grassland Set-aside.
Photos by Laura Parkinson