Archive for August, 2011

Importance of bumble bees

August 20, 2011

Bumble bee on butterfly weed

Bumble bees are excellent pollinators and they are used in agriculture. In some cases they are more efficient than honey bees, the jack of all trades of the pollinators’ world. They are particularly important when the flowers require buzz pollination, a task that honey bees never mastered. Such behavior is described and illustrated here: Bumble bees as pollinators.

Tomato growers, especially those who grow tomatoes in large greenhouses, use the services of bumble bees. Bumble bee colonies are relatively easy to raise and to maintain; thus a whole minor industry has developed. Several bumble bee breeders provide queens and special boxes where the queen can raise a whole colony, along with instructions on how many boxes are needed per acre of plants and how much sugary water should be added to their diet. Tomatoes are good at supplying pollen but not nectar and bumble bees, like all other bees, require both.

Confusing bumble bee

Confusing bumble bee

There is great concern about the possibility of carrying pathogens when these boxes are shipped to other places. Also there is the possibility of honey bees passing their pathogens to bumble bees. It is important to take precautions to avoid such consequences.

In addition to being important in agriculture bumble bees, along with many other species of bees, pollinate a large number of native flowers and thus contribute to the normal functioning of ecosystems.

Common eastern bumble bee

Common eastern bumble bee

Bumble bees. Introduction

Beginners Guide to Pollinators and Other Flower Visitors


Hornets and yellowjackets

August 3, 2011

Common Aerial Yellowjacket on goldenrod

There are a number of species of wasps with bold designs of black or dark brown and yellow or black and white which go by the names of hornets or yellowjackets. They are narrow waisted strong fliers that fold their wings when in repose.

Baldfaced Hornet on goldenrod

There are several species of these wasps and the pattern varies depending on the species, but they generally present stripes. They are about half an inch in size or longer. They are feared for their painful sting, although they are not prone to attacking when at flowers. They build large nests, with a queen and many female workers and also some males.

Eastern Yellowjacket on Queen Anne's lace

Some build their nests underground (terrestrial), others hanging from tree branches or inside a tree hole (aerial) and still others build either aerial of terrestrial nests, depending on the circumstances. They are defensive of their nests and that is when they can be dangerous. They hunt insects to feed the young and also visit flowers for the nectar that fuels their flight. Some are lesser pollinators.

Habitat. Meadows, fields, gardens, areas with some trees.

Season. March to November, year round in southern states. Most abundant in August and September.

Flowers. Most wide open flowers, such as those in the Apiaceae and Asteraceae families. Goldenrod and Queen Anne’s lace seem to be their favorites.

Back to guide