Pollinators in the Garden: Behold, the Mighty Bumblebee!

In this crazy Chicago heat, I’ve been noticing lots of native pollinators buzzing around in the garden.  The most conspicuous visitor is the mighty bumblebee, or bees in the genus Bombus.  Here are some pictures of these queens of the bee world in our garden:

Snoozin' at sunset on the bee balm (Monarda) we planted to attract them and to complement our tomatoes.

Not over there in the grass, dummy. Pollinate our vegetables!

If you don’t this know already, I’m here to clue you in: bumblebees are rad.  Not only are they cute and fuzzy, they’re pollination powerhouses that do a better job making fruits and vegetables than honeybees.  Not only is Albus Dumbledore named after them (Dumbledore is an Early Modern English word for bumblebee), they make like hippies and form cooperative colonies.

Here’s what  The Xerces Society has to say about bumblebees:

–          Females can “buzz-pollinate” the flowers of some crops by grabbing onto the blossom and rapidly vibrating their wings to release a burst of pollen.

–          Pollinated crops include tomato, watermelon, peppers, blueberry, apple, and sunflower, all of which we have or had growing in Wild Roots the past two years.  They also pollinate cranberries and almonds.

–          They nest in cavities like abandoned rodent nests, usually in the ground or under grass tussocks.

–          They are “primitively eusocial,” forming annual colonies with queens which hibernate in cavities during the winter and emerge in the spring to start new colonies.

Told you they were awesome.  Plus, these little guys are picking up the slack for honeybees, whose populations are declining due to Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD).  If you don’t know about CCD, google it for news almost as scary as climate change: right now, honeybees do most of the pollinating for crops in this country, and their demise may mean the loss of all good fruits, nuts, and non-root vegetables.  Terrifying.

The good news is that our best hope for saving the strawberries, squash, and sunflower seeds is to create habitat so that bumblebees and their solitary bee sisters can step up to take honeybees’ place.  Habitat like our campus!  So buzz on in our garden, Dumbledore.

– Jackie

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