Friday, May 3, 2013

The Plight of the Lost Bumblebee

 I spent the day at Aberthau yesterday, singing with the preschool class, walking the grounds and thinking about lost bumble bees. As you can see, the rhodos and azaleas are blooming in some beautiful colours. I have a confession to make: Rhodos and their family leave me cold. I'm not a fan.

 They have a short bloom season, their value to pollinators in questionable and their nectar contains toxins. I am preparing a longer post with more information on rhodo pollination, but for now, take a look at the stamens and pistils.

Flowers go through stages: first they produce sticky chains of pollen, then they moisten their feminine parts to receive sticky chains from other flowers. Then they die. It's all very wham bam.

The spent blossoms of Rhododendrons lie about like red bloomers strewn about a boudoir above a Wild West saloon.

 The gardeners, bless them, had just mowed the lawn and top dressed the beds. This looks pretty and neat to humans, but it is disasterous to ground-dwelling bumble bees.

 I snapped this photo of a distressed queen bumble bee who has lost the  visual map to her nest hole. Ground-nesting bees and wasps have an internal map of their nest site that they develop from the flight positions above the ground. Once the points of reference has been moved or removed, the insect can get confused. I was really upset by this bee's attempts to find her nest with all its baby bees. Without her, they are helpless and will die. Top dressing closes the holes to the nests and makes them inaccessible. Bumble bees need us to leave our gardens alone, especially at this time of the year. We need to be more sensitive to their needs.

If you have a pattern of daisies like this and you build your nest  next to it, then you can see how the daisies would be reference points, changing slowly as the bud, blossom, and fade, but if one day the mower beheads the daisies, you can see how it would be disconcerting.

We all need reference points in our lives: markers, signs, mountains, trees, and such. It is hard when those markers shift and change.

Sharon Kallis and friends wove this memorial spinning wheel out of willow.

This giant raised bed will be planted with flax for linen production and other plants that can be used for textile dyes. Many of these plants also support the pollinators, including the bumble bees.

On the way home I saw a bumble bee queen trapped inside, flinging herself at the window. I allowed her to crawl on my finger and let her fly out. Sadly, she too will be separated from her nest and will have to start all over again from scratch.

I am reminded of a little tour a group of neighbors made to look at a stepping stone project. As we reached one part of the sidewalk a little boy named Noah guided us all around a bumble bee resting on the sidewalk. "Walk around the bumble bee," he directed. I was touched by his actions and now I teach children how to take a piece of paper, slide it under a bee and put her in the sun to warm up. Blow your warm breath on her, give her some love and we can try to save one bee and one nest at a time.

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