IF YOU LIKE A TREASURE HUNT, you're going to love this. The Xerces Society is asking gardeners and others to look for several species of bumblebees that were once thought to be very common but are now feared to be in severe decline. Xerces were kind enough to let me republish the images of the bees you see to the left, by the talented artist Elaine Evans, in hope of inspiring readers to be on the lookout for these little ladies this spring. If you are a blogger, please help to spread the word, and do let me know what sightings are reported to you!
The image above shows yellow-banded bumblebee, Bombus terricola, a personal favorite because it is the one I might see here in my own garden in Nova Scotia. A characteristic to look for in this species is the fringe of bright yellow hair at the end of the abdomen. Bumblebee species also vary considerably in the pattern of black and yellow on their bodies, as you'll see from the remaining pictures.
Yellow-banded bumblebees were common throughout most of their range (which included most of the Northeast and most of the band along the American-Canadian border) until the late 1990s, when suddenly sightings almost ceased. I'm happy to say that, after hearing that the Xerces Society was looking for this bee, my friend and fellow Nova Scotian gardener Jodi DeLong produced a photograph of one--taken in her own garden. For details on how you might also be able to identify a yellow-banded bumble bee, visit this page at the Xerces website.
Next (left) is another Eastern bumble, the rusty patched bumblebee (B. affinis). A characteristic of this bee is the small rust-colored patch on the second abdominal segment. Once common in the East and much of the Midwest, it has not been found in most of its range since 2003. To learn more about how to identify this bee, visit this page at the Xerces website.
Finally, the last of the three bees is the Western bumblebee, B. occidentalis, shown below right. This bee actually has several quite different color variations, depending on where it's found. The pattern shown here is characteristic of the species in Northern California to British Columbia. A quite different color pattern is found in the species in central coastal California, and yet another pattern in those found from the Rocky Mountains to Alaska. For details on how to identify this bee, visit this page at the Xerces Society website.
Anyone who sees one of these bees is asked to contact Sarina Jepsen at the Xerces Society. If you have photos or a collection of bumblebees or have any other evidence of past sightings, the Society would like to hear about these as well.
As a bonus for visiting, the Xerces site has downloadable "Wanted" posters for the bee species they're looking for. These posters make amusing decorations and are a good way to remind yourself to watch for these bees in your garden. I plan to download the poster for yellow-banded bumblebee and put in on the kitchen door, where I'll see it whenever I'm headed out.
It's believed that these bees may be declining because of a disease that was transmitted via bumblebees transported commercially for use as pollinators in greenhouses. The commercial bumblebee industry is one of many potantial threats to wild bumbles, another being loss of habitat. Wildlife-friendly gardening is an important way to help these and many other pollinating species. Supporting the Xerces Society, one of the finer wildlife organizations I know, is another.