Won't my Mommy be so proud of me!
I'm bringing home a baby bumblebee.
Bzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz - It stung me!"
This is a delightful ditty to sing with little children, and the Earth Lady thinks that we should take the words to heart. And, yes, Mommy and everyone else who inhabits the planet Earth should be extremely proud, if you plan to bring home a bumblebee.
Actually, a whole colony of bumblebees would be even better, for bumblebees are great pollinators. In fact, these hardworking little insects pollinate many of our favorite garden flowers and over one-third of the plants we eat, including blueberries, strawberries, peppers, eggplants, melons, squash and tomatoes. Bumblebees are the only known pollinators of potatoes and many rare wildflowers.
The bumblebee, unlike its European cousin, the honey bee, is a roly-poly insect. It is black, fuzzy and has large yellow-orange bands encircling its body, and it collects pollen and transports it back to its colony in pollen baskets on its hind legs. The bumblebee, of course, is known for its distinctive "buzz," which is caused by the vibration of its flight muscles, not its wings. All of this "buzz" activity also helps to warm up its body temperature on cool days so it can get airborne. The bumblebee is primarily peace-loving. As a rule, the bumblebee is not aggressive unless its nest is disturbed, and it is far too busy gathering nectar to annoy, much less sting, a human being.
The bumblebees that emerge in early spring will all be queen bees that have overwintered. These queen bees will lay their eggs in abandoned mouse holes, bird nests or other myriad debris. In these new bee colonies, the workers - sterile females - will tend the larvae after they hatch. In late summer, the new queens and males will leave the nest and mate. The old queens, males and workers will die. Only the young queens will survive, and they will hibernate for the winter. The next spring, the cycle of the bumblebee will begin all over again, at least, we hope it does!
Einstein, who pondered on more that just the theory of relativity, is reputed to have said that without bees to pollinate the world's major food crops, humans would cease to exist within four years. Some optimists think his prediction was a little dire and estimate that homo sapiens could probably last seven years.
Ah, but one does not have to be an Einstein to appreciate the importance of bumblebees. Common sense tells us that we must have pollinators to have food, but these days, there seems to be a dearth of genius and common sense, and bees are in trouble.
In recent years, parasitic mites have greatly reduced the honey bee population, and as the natural landscape is altered, our roadsides wantonly sprayed with herbicides and pesticides used less than judiciously, all pollinators are threatened.
If you want to bring home a baby bumblebee, and the Earth Lady would encourage anyone to do so, be sure that there are plenty of flowering, nectar plants in your garden and suitable nesting sites. If abandoned mouse holes are rare in your garden, a prefabricated bumblebee nest box can entice them to hang around. Instead of zapping the clover in the lawn with weed killer, leave it for the bumblebees, and if at all possible, let part of your yard be au naturel.
Emily Dickinson once said, "To make a prairie, it takes one clover and one bee." Well, the Earth Lady says that if you want to brag about your big, juicy tomatoes, there better be more than one clover and one bee. Cast aside those pesticides; lobby City Hall to stop roadside spraying; and plant wildflowers. Bring on the bumblebees!
The Earth Lady by Margaret Gratz appears in the Daily Journal Home amp& Garden section once a month.