You might ask: What do teapots and bumblebees have in common? Read on to find out.
The past several years I have read with concern numerous articles about the declining honeybee population. It appears to be a complicated, serious, and challenging problem for beekeepers, researchers, and especially farmers.
From a list of causes mentioned, I recall: insecticides/pesticides, environmental stressors (such as habitat loss), disease, and parasites found all over the world.
Even the nectar of Buckeye trees is said to cause the death (or deformity leading to death) of the juveniles being fed the nectar by the workers.
Since finding that information in two references, I have not allowed the wild buckeyes in this garden to live to flowering age. I had all the trees taken out (they were scraggly anyway). Neighbors have them, though, and the squirrels bring the nuts over here and plant them all over the place. The seeds sprout into young buckeyes whose new spring growth is colorful and attractive, but once they turn green, they get whacked. I keep them cut back that way.
There was a front page article in the Wall Street Journal about concern for our pollinators and the loss of bee populations. The average person does not realize the seriousness of the problem (probably never even thinks about it): no pollinators -> no seeds -> no crops -> no food for people and animals -> famine -> wide spread rioting -> anarchy -> and death.
The mystifying Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) is spreading all over the world. Something is causing the hives of honeybees to die. Hopes are being pinned on bumblebees taking up the slack as pollinators. When CCD reached New Zealand, bumblebees were introduced, and they co-exist with the native bees.
There are no bumblebees in Australia. The Australian Hydroponic and Greenhouse Association's concern about the industry's future has led the group to petition the Federal Government to allow them to introduce bumblebees into their greenhouses for pollinating purposes. If CCD has reached New Zealand, it is only a matter of time until it shows up in Australia. When it does, the United States will be in even deeper trouble. More about that in another post.
In England there is evidence that some species of bumblebees are extinct and others are in decline. It is believed to be due to the lack of consistent availability of food and water now that weed and wildflower cover has diminished in fields, towns, and cities. The bees enjoy nectar from many sources, but are much more selective when it comes to plants they visit to collect pollen. Pollen is essential for it is the food of the queen as she produces the different sets of eggs.
At some point, after numerous eggs that become worker bees, the queen produces eggs that will become males and a few new queens. Come autumn, after the young queens have mated, all the bumblebees die; all but the new young queens who have been fed that nourishing pollen. That rich pollen is important for keeping them alive during hibernation; through early spring while they find a safe place to make their new nests; and while they lay eggs that will become the workers. Then the cycle starts over. There is an active movement to protect and nurture bumblebees, for if honeybees are disappearing, bumblebees become even more important.
Some bumblebee species nest underground. The size of the nest is somewhere between that of tennis and soccer balls. In this garden we have had a few bumblebee nests. The queen tends to select a location under something that is protective such as a tree root, or stone. They burrow in there by making a small hole for their entryway, one so small it is not noticeable. They sometimes use the runs and burrows of rodents.
The Wall Street Journal article gave an interesting tip for helping bumblebees find good nesting sites. The writer suggested burying old teapots with the tip of the spout sticking up out of the ground. What a clever use for old, cracked, chipped, and broken teapots!
For more detailed information, this is a good article to read.
The Plight of the Bumblebee