A Sting in the Bumble Bee Population


Image: “Golden bumblebee” taken by Andi Leah Blumenau, September 2015

After a long and tedious winter, you finally are able to savor the beautiful, blue sky and decide to go for a walk with your dog in the neighborhood park. As you step out of the doorway, your dog runs ahead towards a bush. Just as you close your eyes to enjoy the fresh air, you suddenly hear your dog- just stung by a bumble bee – yelp in agony. However, before you start a vendetta against bumble bees, you think of something you just read about the bumble bee…

Bombus, known as the bumble bee, are essential pollinators of plant-life, particularly agricultural crops and wild plants. Increasing evidence reveals that these wild bees, which were once common in the United States, are disappearing. According to the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, the current suspected threats to bumble bees are: habitat loss, pesticide use, pathogen spreading from tamed bees, climate change, and introduced species. In spite of these likely suspects, research to determine the true cause(s) is lacking.

Bumble bees are characterized not only by their largeness and rotundity, but mostly their distinct black and yellow stripes. 50 of the 250 species of these are found in North America. Bumble bees are unique foragers in that, much unlike the honeybee, they have the ability to forage in poor weather conditions, making them preferable pollinators of the wilderness, gardens, and agriculture, especially a variety of crops, which include numerous types of berries, tomatoes, apples, soybeans, cucumbers, and more delectable goods. Bumble bees are also good indicators of the health of an environment. Thus, the decline of bumble bees has presented a predicament, as “Pollinator decline has become a worldwide issue, raising increasing concerns over impacts on global food production, stability of pollination services, and disruption of plant-pollinator networks,” says Dr. Terry L. Griswold, professor at the Department of Entomology and Institute for Genomic Biology at the University of Illinois, Urbana.

According to much rising evidence, several Northern species have suffered population declines. Some species are even listed by the IUCN as Critically Endangered. This drastic decrease are shown to coincide with a lower genetic diversity as well as the presence of higher pathogen levels, yet there is no certain cause. In addition, according to a recent study by Dr. Rachael Winfree of Rutgers University’s Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Natural Resources, “the recent literature is increasingly finding sublethal effects as well, particularly for the systemic neonicotinoids. Given the ubiquity of these insecticides, any species-level variation in susceptibility to neonicotinoids could have substantial ecological effects”. Neonicotinoid pesticides, which are used on at least 100 different crops agriculturally and domestically, results in a significantly harmful exposure for any insect that comes into contact with treated plants. To make matters worse, “We have growing evidence that neonicotinoids can have dangerous effects, especially in conjunction with other pathogens,” Peter Neumann of the Institute of Bee Health at the University of Bern in Switzerland tells TIME magazine, thus making bees even more vulnerable.

While there currently are conservation efforts concerning bees in general, wild bee populations, in particular, are declining quickly. A study by Rutgers University based on the historical specimens from the American Museum of Natural History that date back 140 years as well as those of nine collections, has shown that some species of bees, especially those of the bumble bee, are declining while those that are introduced and “tamed”, or bees like honeybees raised by agricultural firms, continue to thrive. While others may claim that we need not be concerned as bees are bountiful, bumble bees in particular are not without risk.

So before you strike that bumble bee with a fatal blow, remember what is at stake should the world become devoid of bumble bees. To take it a step further, you can even help the bumblebee and its population by planting native flowering plants in your garden, especially vibrant flowers, as well as giving bumble bees a safe haven by leaving grass, old wood, and hay. Refraining from using pesticides, particularly neonicotinoid, aids in preventing harmful exposure. Helping these key pollinators of the wilderness means ensuring a more stable agricultural system, a more beautiful and lush plant diversity, and a thriving ecosystem.


Cameron, S. A., J. D. Lozier, J. P. Strange, J. B. Koch, N. Cordes, L. F. Solter, and T. L. Griswold. “Patterns of Widespread Decline in North American Bumble Bees.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 108.2 (2011): 662-67. Web. <http://www.pnas.org/content/108/2/662&gt;.

Cariveau, Daniel, and Rachael Winfree. “Causes of Variation in Wild Bee Responses to Anthropogenic Drivers.” Causes of Variation in Wild Bee Responses to Anthropogenic Drivers. ScienceDirect, 19 May 2015. Web.

Hatfield, Rich, Sarina Jepsen, Eric Mader, Scott Hoffman Black, and Matthew Shepherd. Conserving Bumble Bees: Guidelines for Creating and Managing Habitats for America’s Declining Pollinators. Portland: Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, 2012. Print.

O’Hanlon, Larry. “Study: Bumble Bees at Risk, While Others Thrive : DNews.” DNews. Discovery World News, 7 Mar. 2013. Web. 13 Sept. 2015.

Walsh, Brian. “The Plight of the Honeybee.” Time Magazine. Time Magazine, 19 Aug. 2013. Web. 13 Sept. 2015.


This entry was posted in Conservation Biology Posts, Conservation Editorials 2015. Bookmark the permalink.

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