Archive for the ‘conservation’ Category

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


Bumble bee’s enemies

July 10, 2011

Bombus bimaculatus paralyzed by ambush bug

The life of a pollinator can be quite hazardous. There are plenty of creatures willing to devour one of them, from insects and spiders to birds. In addition to that, there are many parasites and other pathogens. Perhaps the highest mortality comes from the so called parasitoids and cuckoos. Parasitoids behave somewhere between a parasite and a predator; they parasitize the host, feeding on it, and eventually killing it, while predators kill and eat the prey all at once. Cuckoo bees and wasps, just like cuckoo birds take over the nest, lay their eggs and let the workers of the host species take care of the brood. Many cuckoos are related species, mainly other bumble bees; in some cases they mimic the appearance of the host species.

In general, most birds seem to avoid bumble bees; although there are a few species that specialize on bees. Skunks, voles and moles can attack their nests and eat their reserves and grubs. These creatures destroy a good number of nests. There is a story about Darwin saying that the British armies owed a lot to old spinsters. This was his explanation: Old spinsters owned cats which ate field mice. Fewer mice meant that more bumble bee nests survived. In turn, the bumble bees pollinated the alfalfa that fed the cattle that fed the soldiers and kept them strong and healthy. It was just an unproven entertaining hypothesis, but still a nice illustration of the intricate web of life.

Crab spider on thistle

Crab spiders are so called because they look and move like crabs. They are among the most common predators. They build no webs; instead they hide inside blossoms, waiting patiently for prey and ready to pounce on the first flower visitor that comes within reach. They are well camouflaged and are capable of changing their colors if they have to move to another flower.

Ambush bug on multiflora rose blossom

Ambush bugs deserve the name. They sit for long hours, well hidden inside a flower or cluster of small flowers, waiting for flower visitors. Their contour is jagged making it hard to detect them. They are very good at holding still, tucked in between petals. Their front claws look like those of a preying mantis and they have a sharp beak used for stabbing their prey and sucking vital juices. Their venom must be very powerful because they can paralyze a bumble bee twice their size in the blink of an eye.

Conopid fly on common milkweed

Some flies of the Conopidae family parasitize bumble bees. They hang around flowers waiting for bumble bees and lay just one egg in the narrow space between body segments. The egg hatches, the larva gets inside the unfortunate bee and proceeds to feed on its blood, (its real name is hemolymph because it is more similar to lymph than to blood). As it grows it starts eating the tissues, eventually killing the host.

Bee wolf Philanthus gibbosus

Bee wolf wasps attack many types of bees, bumble bees included, and also other insects. They overpower them and take them to their nests to feed their young. They have a very thick, pitted body cover that serves them as armor.

cuckoo bumble bee, Bombus citrinus

Other enemies of bumble bees are bumble bees themselves, the so called cuckoo bumble bees. There are several species of them. They build no colonies, nor have any workers. A queen attacks and subjugates a colony of honest, hard working bumble bees. She usually kills the resident queen and destroys any eggs. Then proceeds to lay eggs of her own which are nurtured by the workers of the host species.

Bumble bees also suffer from many of the pathogens that afflict honey bees, such as mites, fungi, nematode worms, bacteria and viruses. The life of a pollinator is not an easy one.

Bumble bees. Introduction

Beginners Guide to Pollinators and Other Flower Visitors

Bumble bees: the pandas of the insect world?

June 8, 2011

Bumble bees, those fuzzy industrious flying insects, are part of our culture in a number of ways: from Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Flight of the Bumble Bee” to cute Halloween costumes, waving antennae and all. Stuffed toy bumble bees are ubiquitous in every nursery and most children libraries seem to carry at least one book about bumblebees. Songs and fairy tales involving bumblebees abound.


Bumble bees are plump and furry insects, usually striped black and yellow or black and white and yellow. Some even have some orange to brighten things up a little more.
They have two large eyes and, if you look very carefully, you will see three smaller eyes at the top of the head, between the large ones. The mouth has jaws which the females use for some tasks such as kneading wax and building little pots that they use to store pollen and nectar.
Insects have three pairs of legs and bumblebees are no exception. The back legs of the females are very peculiar, with a broader, flattened section surrounded by stiff hairs forming a sort of basket; as we will see later on, that is exactly how bumble bees use them. The wings are transparent, crossed by thin dark veins. There are four wings, two on each side of the thorax; but most of the time the back and front wing are joined by tiny hooks along the edges and look and act as one. Wings are a lot stronger than they appear and can carry the busy animal for several miles a day in its constant search for nectar and pollen; however, after several weeks of constant use they begin to fray along the far edge. Look for bumblebees on flowers and after a while you will be able to tell the ones that are very young and look spanking new from the older, worn out ones. In early spring most of them are young and the opposite is true near the end of the season.

We must be careful when we talk about bumble bees; at first sight we may think that they are all the same. We may even make the mistake of assuming that the larger, glossier and blacker carpenter bees are also bumble bees. As we’ll see later they are not and they have a very different life style.
There are about fifty species of bumble bees in North America; it would be nice to tell them apart at a glance but in many cases the differences are very subtle and we need help from the experts. They will tell us that it can be very difficult and that they may need to examine the specimen carefully under the microscope before making a diagnosis. So we won’t worry too much about identifying the species all the time.

See also:
Bumble bees part II
Bumble bees part III
Bumble bees as pollinators
Bumble bee’s intelligence
Life cycle

Beginners Guide to Pollinators and Other Flower Visitors

Bumble Bees

March 31, 2011

Common Eastern Bumble Bee

Second to Honey Bees, Bumble Bees are the kind of bees we are most familiar with.

Unlike most native bees, which are solitary, and like Honey Bees, Bumble Bees live in colonies or hives with a queen and a number of workers. Their colonies last only a year, starting in the spring and dying out usually in the late fall. The only survivors of the season are the young mated queens. The old queen, all the workers and the males or drones don’t live through the winter.

Bumble Bee colonies are usually underground. In the spring the young queen finds a hole, usually an abandoned mouse burrow, prepares it as a nest and starts raising a family.

Confusing Bumble Bee

Bumble Bees range in size between 0.4 and 0.9 in. Workers are smaller than queens, drones are even smaller. If you see a pair mating in the fall you will notice the large difference in size. Queens are usually seen in the spring and the fall; the rest of the summer season only the workers are around while the queen stays in the nest laying eggs.

Pollen basket on the hind leg of a female Bumble Bee

Bumble Bees, especially the queens, are larger than honey bees, very hairy, black with some yellow and or orange stripes on the abdomen and thorax. The females have pollen baskets on their hind legs similar to those of Honey Bees and quite different from the pollen brushes of other bees. The Bumble Bee can pack the pollen into a fairly solid mass.

Two species are very common particularly in the east: the Common Eastern Bumble Bee and the Confusing Bumble Bee. In the west there are other Bumble Bees; a very attractive one is the Red Belted Bumble Bee.

Habitat. A very wide range of habitats, from farms and gardens to large cities’ downtown.

Season. It starts flying as early as March and continues until October. In southern states, the season is practically year round.

Flowers. Many different kinds of flowers. Their tongues are long enough that they can reach the nectar of some deeper flowers. A good time to see them is in the fall when goldenrods are in bloom.

See also:
Bumble bees. The pandas of the insect world

Flower Visitors

Back to guide

Honey Bee

March 26, 2011

Honey Bee on goldenrod. Notice the pollen basket on its hind leg

The bee everybody is most familiar with is the domesticated one, the Honey Bee, from which we get honey and wax. This bee was brought from Europe by the settlers; there weren’t any honey bees in this continent before that time.

Honey bees vary in color from “blonde”, a light tan, to “brunette”, nearly black. Most are tan with darker stripes. They are fairly hairy and about the size of a house fly, between 0.4 to 0.6 in. The most distinguishing feature is the baskets that females have on the hind legs or third pair of legs. This basket, also called corbicula, is made of two rows of stiff hairs, called setae, forming a kind of basket around the flattened section of the leg. The bee can pack a lot of pollen in these baskets to carry home.

Honey Bees form large colonies, called hives, composed of a queen, many workers and some drones or males. The queen’s only function is to lay eggs and is assisted by workers all the time. The workers are all females, daughters of the queen. The drones don’t do any work around the hive nor gather pollen or nectar; their only purpose is to mate with new queens so new colonies can get started.

In addition to producing honey and wax, honey bees pollinate a wide range of flowers, many of them, such as almonds, very important for agriculture. It is said that their value as pollinators is as much as twenty times that of honey.

Habitat. Feral honey bees can be found in almost any habitat, but more commonly near farms, or even towns and cities.

Season. They start flying as early as March and last until October or even November. They can be seen in winter if the weather is mild.

Flowers. Many crops, peaches, apples, etc. They also visit many types of wildflowers that bloom in different seasons.

Back to guide

Pollinators and other flower visitors. A field guide for young people

March 26, 2011

Insect flower visitors of many sorts

Flowers are visited by a great variety of insects, and some spiders too. Some of these insect visitors are very beneficial to the flower. They carry pollen from flower to flower performing pollination. This is what the plant needs to make seeds and thus make new plants and new flowers.
The list of flower visitors is extremely long and some of the insects are impossible to tell apart by sight only, so this guide doesn’t attempt to cover them all. I will just merely highlight some of the most common flower visitors, in particular those that pollinate flowers. You will be able to recognize some of them or, at least, you will know what group they belong to.

What do pollinators look like?

Insects have three body sections, called head, thorax and abdomen. The head carries the eyes, the mouth parts and antennae. The thorax is made of three segments and carries three pairs of legs and generally either two pairs or only one pair of wings. The abdomen is made of a series of segments.

What kind of pollinating insect is that?

Different groups of insects vary on the shape of the head, thorax and abdomen. Of special importance are the variations on the kinds of wings. Future blog entries will cover four main types of flower visitors: 1. bees and wasps, 2. flies, 3. butterflies and moths and 4. beetles.

Bee, hairy, pollen combs

Wasp, hairless, “wasp waist”

Bees and wasps have two pairs of membranous wings, they look like saran wrap. The main differences between bees and wasps are that wasps usually have a narrow waist (the separation between the thorax and abdomen) and are less hairy than bees. Female bees usually have a means to carry pollen, the so called pollen baskets or pollen combs, either on their back legs or on the underside of their abdomens. Sometimes these baskets are loaded with pollen.

Ants are related to wasps and resemble them in their appearance, but they have no wings. Only queens and males have wings, but they are seldom seen. Ants are also frequent flower visitors. They rarely can pollinate flowers because they don’t fly and are not likely to carry pollen a significant distance.

Fly, two wings, big eyes, very small antennae

Flies  are important pollinators too. Their wings are also membranous, like those of bees and wasps but they have only one pair instead of two. The flies that visit flowers often look like bees or wasps. They lack stingers so they are good mimics that try to fool hungry birds into thinking that they can sting. Some of the ways to tell them apart is by the eyes which are very large and by the short antennae, made of two separate parts. They are usually hairless and the legs are very thin when compared to those of bees.

Butterfly, wings with scales, knobs at end of antennae

Butterflies and moths  have wings covered by very tiny scales. If you touch them some of those scales come off and they look like dust. They have a very long tongue which they use as a drinking straw to sip nectar from flowers. When not in use they keep it rolled up under their chins.

Moth, wings with scales, antennae without knobs

Butterfly’s antennae end in little knobs, while the antennae of moths can either be feathery or like a string, but never with a knob at the end. Butterflies usually fly during the day, while moths fly at night, although a number of them fly during the day. Night flying moths tend to be rather colorless, but those that fly during the day can be as brightly colored as many butterflies.

Beetle, hardened wings

Beetles have two pairs of wings but the first set is modified and hardened into a wing case that covers and protects the second pair of wings.
You only see this second pair when the beetle is flying or getting ready to fly. This second pair is also membranous like those of bees, wasps and flies and they remain folded under the first pair.

Where can you find pollinators?

Field of goldenrods in the fall

Look for pollinators at flowers. The best flowers are native ones. Garden flowers, especially the double ones don’t attract many pollinators, so tulips or fancy roses are not very good for pollinators. Most pollinators are active when it is warm enough, when it isn’t windy and when the sun is shining. There are a few that fly when it is dark and visit night blooming flowers.

Common milkweed, flowers

Some flowers attract many visitors. Two of the best ones are: common milkweed and all the goldenrods.

Common milkweed blooms in June and early July. The plants can grow 6 feet tall. They have large oval leaves and bunch of flowers arranged like a ball. The flowers are pink and emit a very strong sweet scent.


Goldenrodsbloom in the fall, from September to November, depending on where you live. There are several types of goldenrods; they all have yellow flowers arranged in rods that give the name to the plant. Their scent is not particularly strong but many insects are attracted to it or to the colorful display.

Asters and related flowers attract large numbers of pollinators.

Asters, blooming in the fall

Sunflowers and skipper

These include many daisy-like flowers such as sunflowers, black-eyed Susans, ragworts, cornflowers, as well as some plants which are not native, dandelions and thistles. The above mentioned goldenrods belong to this family, too.

Mountain mint and Queen Anne’s lace are also good attractants of a variety of flower visitors.

Honey Bee
Bumble Bees
Carpenter Bees
Halictid Bee or Sweat Bee
Mason Bees and Leaf-cutter Bees
Andrenid Bees

Potter Wasps and Mason Wasps
Grass-carrying Wasps
Great Golden Digger Wasp
Hornets and Yellowjackets
Paper Wasps

Flower Flies or Syrphid Flies
Bee Flies
Blowflies. Lucilia

Tiger Swallowtail
Hair Streaks
Pieridae Butterflies: Whites and Sulphurs
Silver Spotted Skipper

Hummingbird Moth
Hawk Moths
Ailanthus Web-worm Moth
Yellow-collared Scape Moth

Tumbling Flower Beetles
Flower Long Horn Beetles
Soldier Beetles
Japanese Beetle
Ladybugs or Lady Beetles

Other frequent flower visitors
Ambush Bug
Crab Spider

Further readings
Overview of Orders of Insects
Native bees of North America
Bumble bees


You may purchase the electronic version:

Beginners Guide to Pollinators and Other Flower Visitors

You can help pollinators in your own garden

March 9, 2011

Here are some of the things you can do to help pollinators in your garden:

Plant a pollinator garden. Turn some of your lawn into a wildflower meadow. One major objection of gardeners, the fear of stings, doesn’t need to be a serious concern. Most native bees are quite different in this respect from honeybees and hornets; they hardly ever sting and if they do, it is very mild. In fact there are some, such as the Andrenids, that are incapable of doing so. Their stingers are too small to penetrate human skin.

Avoid pesticides or if you absolutely need to use them, inform yourself carefully about the specific pesticides that kill only the target species, rather than decimating many others unintentionally. Furthermore, avoiding pesticides may not be as bad as it sounds since nature has its own checks and balances and manages to keep most pests under control without resorting to pesticides. There are some cases in which use of pesticides backfires by destroying these checks and balances. Avoid herbicides also; they can be bad for pollinators. They either deprive them of food or poison them.

Plant native flowers, that is flowers that grow locally, not just native to the United States; these are best for pollinators. Some bees may be able to adapt to non-native plants, such as many fruit trees or some of the less fancy cultivars. But native pollinators and native plants have become mutually adapted through millions of years, so they make the perfect match in most cases.

Grow a variety of flowers that bloom through the seasons. This is good for native bees; fortunately this is also what most gardeners aspire to have in their gardens. However highly selected cultivars or those with doubled-flowers don’t take care of the needs of pollinators. In general they have lost all the cues that pollinators need, such as scent. In some cases, they have also lost the pollen or nectar and so they don’t provide any food to bees.

Plant the kind of lawn that provides habitat beneficial to bees. A perfectly manicured, pesticide saturated lawn is a desert to wildlife, including pollinators. Reducing the size of the lawn would benefit native pollinators. But it is also possible to have a lawn that is good for bees while being esthetically pleasing. As mentioned before, stay away from pesticides and herbicides as much as possible. Second, allow some small wildflowers; the look of your lawn may change as a result but it will continue to serve its purpose. Clover is great food for native bees; it also fixes nitrogen cutting down the need for fertilizers. Other small plants that benefit bees are ground speedwells (Veronica), wood sorrel (Oxalis acetosella), smartweeds or knotweeds (Polygonum), wild strawberries (Fragaria, several species), etc. Rather than calling them weeds we should call them grass companions or pollinator food.

Provide housing for bees. A simple bare spot here and there (no mulch or grass, just bare soil) may be enough for a few hard-working soil nesters. A sand pile may be even better. It bears repeating: There is no real need to worry about stings from solitary bees.

Dead logs or snags can supply housing for bees. You probably can’t have a dead tree on your property, but it is possible to keep a stump or a standing log and use it as an attractive planter; perhaps it will in turn provide housing for some little bees. Drilling holes on an old post or even a tree trunk would also make good nesting sites. They should be 3/32” to 3/8” in diameter and at least 4” deep.

Or you can make your own bee houses. It is possible and relatively easy to build one by following instructions posted in several websites. Or you can buy one; some resources listed below. I have discovered that watching the comings and goings of those busy mother bees can be as much fun as observing a bird house. Once again, stings don’t seem to be a real problem; I have had my face right in front of their houses and have even let them climb on my finger without any consequences.

Hollow tubes, just about the size of drinking straws, can also be used as bee nests. Some of the suppliers listed sell them. You can also tie up a bunch of hollow twigs, such as elderberry, or paper drinking straws (plastic ones are no good) together or pack them into a container such as a small milk or cream carton and place them horizontally. They should be closed at one end with the open end facing south or southeast. If you have trouble figuring out where the south is, step outside sometime between 10 AM and 1 PM and face the sun. That is how you want to place the nests. (See links below for instructions).

You can let some of your ornamental grasses stay all winter; they can be quite handsome and add variety to your winter landscape while providing nesting to your friendly native bees.

Helping the native bees would benefit us because of their invaluable services to the environment and to our gardens.


Ross, Edward S. (2003) Pollinator Conservation Handbook. The Xerces Society and The Bee Works. Portland, Oregon ISBN 0-9744475-0-1. (Bee gardens, bee houses, etc.)
The Xerces Society Guide (2011). Attracting Native Pollinators. Storey Publishing. ISBN 978-1-60342-695-4 (Everything you want to know about pollinators and their conservation)

Urban Bee Gardens. Berkeley University
Nests for Native Bees. The Xerces Society
Bee houses. National Wildlife Federation. (How to build a bee house)

Sellers of bee houses
Mason bee homes.

Native bees, conservation

March 7, 2011

In recent years the general public has become aware that honeybees are in serious trouble. What most people don’t know is that not just honeybees, but also some native bees and other pollinators, seem to be suffering difficulties for a number of reasons. Unfortunately we know so little about this huge number of species of bees that it is hard to assess fully the situation and the causes. Buchmann and Nabhan called attention to this problem as early as 1996 in their book, The Forgotten Pollinators. There, they discussed the need to learn more about native pollinators and to take steps toward protecting them.

It may seem strange to most but honeybees may be contributing to the extinction of some native bees. Honeybees can out-compete many of them. We can only guess what the impact of the arrival of honeybees has been on the populations of native bees starting with the early settlers.

It appears that, as in many other cases, habitat reduction and fragmentation affect the populations of native bees. Pesticides are without doubt bad for many species of native bees. This became dramatically apparent in New Brunswick, Canada years ago when the blueberry crop was disastrously low, despite the fact that the plants appeared healthy. Finally, it was found that the battle to control the spruce worm in the nearby forests had wiped out the native bees. Blueberry farmers started a litigation that went all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada until they succeeded at placing restrictions on the use of pesticides. It took a number of years before the populations of bees were restored and the blueberry crops became plentiful again.

The situation of native bees in the United States has caused enough concern that the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences issued a report titled “Status of Pollinators in North America” in October, 2006. The document presents conclusive evidence of downward long-term trends of the populations of some native pollinators, including solitary bees and especially some bumblebee species. Additional data on trends and their causes keeps coming in recent publications.

Some of the recommendations of the Research Council are the creation of economic incentives for the study of bee populations through a system of long-term monitoring and for the development of practices promoting pollinator preservation. Another recommendation is to encourage land managers and owners, including farmers and homeowners to develop “pollinator-friendly” practices, many of which require only a small increase in expenditures.

A number of organizations are creating pollinator gardens with the types of plants and habitats that benefit bees and other pollinators. The Xerces society supplies information to those who want to start one.

In Canada the citizens of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, have gone a step further creating the world’s first Pollinator Park at the Eastview landfill site. In part they were inspired by the experience with the blueberry pollination disaster. They are turning an ordinary landfill, about one hundred acres, into an oasis for bees and other pollinators with the right plantings and proper habitat for nesting.

Status of Pollinators in North America . The National Academies.
North American Pollinator Protection Campaign
How to Protect and Enhance Habitat for Native Bees.

My bees and climate change

March 6, 2011

It is February 16th and the weather forecast for the next few days shows temperatures in the sixties. I am concerned about my bees. I hope that they don’t wake up too soon.
I have been raising native, solitary bees for the last few years. They are not like honey bees: they don’t make honey or wax. They live alone, each mother raising her own babies. They are gentle and not prone to stinging. I am also told that, if they do sting when molested, their venom is very mild compared to that of honey bees and yellow jackets.

I am not interested in honey or wax, so this matter doesn’t bother me. I like these native bees because they are very good at pollinating wild flowers; they also pollinate some fruit trees and other crops just like honey bees.

My bee houses don’t look like hives at all; they are blocks of wood with holes about the size of a pencil. Each mother bee claims possession of one hole, then she gathers enough pollen and nectar for one baby, lays an egg at the far end of the hole, builds a wall with clay and starts a second cell for the next baby until the whole tube is filled. Then she double-seals the entrance with clay and starts another nest if she has enough time. These bees are very short lived and by June they are mostly gone; if you see one at that time, its wings look frazzled and you can tell that it won’t be able to fly and carry pollen much longer.

Be it as it may, the system works quite well for these bees. Each spring a new generation emerges from the nest and starts the cycle again. Yes, the new generation has been out of sight all that time. The egg laid in the previous spring became a hungry grub that ate all the supplies, then it metamorphosed, first into a relatively immobile pupa and then into a winged adult. Without ever leaving the nest it went to sleep and stayed put for all those months of summer, fall and winter.

How do they know when it is time to emerge and leave the nest? It may be a combination of a biological clock and weather conditions. The fact is that they emerge in the spring, just around the time when numerous flowers, rich in supplies, are blooming.

My bees found the recently placed bee houses three years ago in mid-April, when the weather was quite balmy. Who knows where they came from but come they did and built their nests. The next year, there was a sudden burst of spring weather, warm and sunny, on April first. Taking the cue from the weather they started chomping away the hard clay front door and inner partitions built by their mother almost a year earlier and hurried to leave the nest, buzzing along; the ones farther back pushing their brothers and sisters in their urge to see the world.

The next few days my bee houses buzzed with activity: flirting, mating, inspecting the now empty holes, as well as any other hole of a similar size. Soon only the females remained. They kept coming, loaded with supplies and disappeared inside. Sometimes they spent some time sitting at the door, only their antennae sticking out. They seemed to be munching on something now and then. Who knows where the males went after they mated! This is their sole contribution to the next generation.

A year later the first spring-like day was March 19 and just like the previous year, although almost two weeks earlier, my bees emerged and started their activities, no less entertaining for the fact that I had seen it all the previous year. Actually there is always some novelty; you notice new details for the first time and marvel at the things such tiny and alien looking creatures are capable of.

But now, it sounds like there will be a balmy warm day in the middle of February, despite the heaps of snow still present on the ground. What will happen to my bees? Will the biological clock prevail over the cues from the weather and will they wait for the second bout of spring weather? Or, will they emerge too soon? There is no food to be had anywhere for them, no flowers. . . Some of the flower bearing plants haven’t even begun to grow because the snow storms have been hard and heavy and the ground hasn’t had time to thaw, nor the plants a chance to grow.

What will it be? As I write this I wonder what to do if my bees show up tomorrow: supply them with some small containers of sugary water? That may help, but, do I want to interfere with nature? These things may have happened many times before and the bees survived well enough to this day. However, it is possible that climate change has been accelerated by humans; this change might be too fast to allow some of our precious creatures to adapt. If bees and flowers get out of sync they will suffer. They may even be pushed to extinction. I sit and wonder.