By Serina Wells, Intern, The Comanche Chief
As I was walking through an old cattle pin in the back of our property that has been overrun with various plants and weeds, I noticed some big fuzzy bugs flying around. Now as you may have suspected, they were bees, but not just any bees, they were bumblebees. We had a few of these warm fuzzy little guys around a couple years ago but haven’t had anywhere near the amount we have this year. This got me to thinking what happened to them and why are they not more prominent? So, I did a little research.
Bumblebees originated in the U.S, some are native to the great state of Texas, and there are about 255 species, nine of which are in Texas. To me these bundles of fluff are absolutely adorable, but in my opinion social distancing is key when it comes to anything with a pokey butt. Despite their pokiness, they are very docile and are a vital element to the pollination and fertilization of our plants. These bees aren’t like others, they have a very special and unique way of doing things.
The more research I did the more fascinated and surprised I became. Something you may not know is that when a bumble bee stings you, they don’t die as a result of it, unlike the well-known honeybee. They also collect pollen differently than the friendly neighborhood honeybee. Bumbles have long tongues that are perfect for tuberous flowers such as honeysuckle and tomatoes. In contrast to many other bees, these guys have a different approach to pollination. As a result of their size and their ability to flap their wings 500 times per second they are capable of “buzz pollination”. This occurs when the bees produce strong vibrations by using their flight muscles and directing them onto the anther of the flower. This causes an explosion of pollen; they then rake this pollen into their pollen baskets but what they miss goes on to fertilize the next batch of flowers. However, pollination is not the only thing they like to do differently.
The life cycle of a bumble bee is unique and quite intriguing. The easiest place to start explaining this journey is spring. When everything begins awakening from its winter slumber the queen bumble bees emerge as well. First and foremost, she finds food, then she finds the perfect spot for her hive. When she finds a suitable place for her royalness, she begins to lay eggs, but only those that are non-queen females. She creates honeypots and raises the first batch of eggs until they are old enough to become the workers. This process repeats itself throughout the summer months until the end of the season. Bumble beehives contain 50 to 500 bees at a time. This is quite small compared to the hundreds or thousands that a honeybee hive has. At the end of the season, generally in the fall, the queen begins to lay the eggs that will produce males and queens. When the males mature, they leave the hive and lay in wait for the queens so they can mate. Once they mate the males die and the queens find a place to spend the winter. Usually in the ground or in piles of leaves or mulch. The original queen also dies so the process must begin anew with the young queens during the spring.
The specific life cycle of a bumble bee is one of the reasons they need as much help as they can get. Their numbers are declining rapidly, due in part to many different reasons. Climate change is having a high effect on them. They flap their wings at least two times more than most other species, they are bigger, and have more “hairs” on them. This all adds up to getting very warm very quickly. Other obstacles they face are habitat loss and pesticides. Although they do not produce high amounts of honey, they are an invaluable resource. Since they are native to our country and our state they have grown and adapted with the native plants, something no other bee has had the opportunity to do. We need these bees and the helpfulness they provide us.