Pollinator Conservation Information

  1. Bees and other pollinators touch our lives every day in ways we may not realize. They are responsible for as much as one third of the food and drinks that we consume, and contribute to the production of our clothes. They help define our seasons: The flowering meadows of spring, the berries of summer, the pumpkins we carve for Halloween and eat at Thanksgiving, and the southward migration of monarchs that signifies the approach of Dia de Los Muertos.
  2. Imagine a world without most of the foods you love. Without bees we wouldn’t have the abundance of apples, pumpkins, strawberries, blueberries, or almonds that we enjoy. Of the foods and beverages that we consume daily, over 30% rely on or benefit from a pollinator. Pollinators even help milk production: the alfalfa and clover cows graze is replenished by seed pollinated by bees. Worldwide, production of animal-pollinated crops is valued at over $235 billion annually. The loss of pollinators would negatively affect both farmers and consumers who would be faced with reduced crop yields and lower quality products. Moreover, insect-pollinated foods contain many key nutrients, such as vitamin E, essential to our diet. A world without pollinators would not only leave us with fewer food choices, but would make it substantially harder to find the nutrition we need to survive.
  3. Pollinator populations are in decline in many parts of the world and these declines put agricultural productivity and the health of natural ecosystems at risk. Over the past decade, we have seen a dramatic rise in annual hive losses for the domestic honey bees in the U.S., with beekeepers now losing more than 30% of their bees each year.
  4. Native pollinators may be faring even worse. Numerous wild, unmanaged pollinator species native to North America are experiencing declines and a significant proportion of native bee species are at risk of extinction. For example, at least 28% of North America’s bumble bees have undergone significant declines, including species that were formerly common and widespread. In 2017, the rusty patched bumble bee, which has disappeared from 87% of its historic range, became the first bumble bee to be listed as an endangered species.
  5. Butterflies in the U.S. have also undergone significant declines: 19% are at risk of extinction, including species with special habitat needs as well as generalist species that were once widespread. The iconic monarch butterfly, for example, has experienced declines of 74–80% in populations both east and west of the Rocky Mountains. Habitat loss, alteration, and fragmentation, as well as diseases, pesticide use and climate change are all threats to pollinators and the ecosystems that they support.
  6. Although birds, bats, and other creatures are also pollinators, insects are the animals that do the bulk of the pollination that affects our daily lives. Some of these insect pollinators will be familiar (bees and butterflies), but you might be surprised by some of the others (flies, wasps, and beetles). Here we provide an overview of these five main groups of insect pollinators—including their life cycles, habitat requirements, and conservation needs. For further reading, check out our page about endangered pollinators.
  7. Honey bees (Apis ) may be the most well-known, but they represent a tiny fraction of all bee species! Worldwide, there are an estimated 20,000 species of bees, and approximately 3,600 bee species are native to the United States and Canada alone. Of these myriad bee species, more than 90% lead solitary—rather than social—lives, in which each female constructs and provisions her own nest, without the assistance of others.
  8. The majority of solitary bee species are not aggressive and many are stingless—undeserving of the fear many people feel towards bees. Bees are also important pollinators of a variety of plants, possessing hairs and other specialized anatomical structures that readily collect and transfer pollen.
  9. Bumble bees are important pollinators of wild flowering plants and agricultural crops. They are able to fly in cooler temperatures and lower light levels than many other bees, making them excellent pollinators—especially at higher elevations and latitudes. They also perform a behavior called “buzz pollination,” in which the bee grabs the flower in her jaws and vibrates her wing muscles to dislodge pollen from the flower. Many plants, including a number of wildflowers and crops like tomatoes, peppers, and cranberries, benefit from buzz pollination.
  10. Because they (Bumble bees) are essential pollinators, loss of bumble bees can have far ranging ecological consequences. Alarmingly, recent work by the Xerces Society in concert with IUCN Bumble Bee Specialist Group, indicates that some species have experienced rapid and dramatic declines more than others. In fact, more than one quarter (28%) of all North American bumble bees are facing some degree of extinction risk. While some species have received considerable conservation attention, other species such as the Suckley cuckoo bumble bee and the variable cuckoo bumble bee have been largely overlooked.
  11. All bumble bees belong to the genus Bombus within the family Apidae. The family Apidae includes the well-known honey bees and bumble bees, as well as carpenter bees, cuckoo bees, digger bees, stingless bees, and orchid bees. Bumble bees are important pollinators of wild flowering plants and crops. As generalist foragers, they do not depend on any one flower type. However, some plants do rely on bumble bees to achieve pollination. Loss of bumble bees can have far ranging ecological impacts due to their role as pollinators. In Britain and the Netherlands, where multiple bumble bee and other bee species have gone extinct, there is evidence of decline in the abundances of insect pollinated plants. Bumble bees are also excellent pollinators of many crops.
  12. Bumble bees are the only bees native to North America that are truly social. They live in colonies, have different divisions of labor or castes, and have overlapping generations, usually with multiple broods throughout the spring, summer, and fall. However, unlike the non-native, European honey bees, the bumble bee colony has an annual life cycle. At the end of the summer the foundress queen, her workers and male offspring will all die; only the newly emerged, fertilized queens (gynes) survive to hibernate through the winter. In the spring, she will found a new nest that eventually may grow, depending on the species and available resources, to 50 – 500 individuals. Bumble bees need a cavity in which to build their nest. The queens are opportunists, looking for any suitably sized cavity. Sometimes this is above ground, such as in hollow trees, abandoned bird nests, rock walls, or under a tussock of grass, but they mostly nest underground. An abandoned rodent hole is a favorite, as this space is warm and already lined with fur. Learn more about bumble bee nesting here.
  13. The queen creates the first few brood cells from wax, and then provisions them with pollen and nectar and lays eggs. It will take four to five weeks for the first eggs she lays to emerge as adult bees; these bees become workers, taking on the tasks of foraging and helping the queen tend the growing number of brood cells. Depending on their role in the nest, workers may live for one to two months, by which time there will be more workers to replace them. The queen will continue to lay eggs, and the colony will grow steadily through the summer. At the end of summer, new queens and drones will emerge and mate. Because bumble bees have an annual life cycle, and generally only occupy nest sites for one year. Repeated use of the same nest site would happen only by chance, as overwintering queens do not spend the winter in the nest they were born. Because of this, we encourage folks that find nest sites near their home to try to make space for the bumble bees during the season, rather than attempt to move or exterminate them. Understanding the life cycle of a typical bumble bee colony is the first step in understanding their unique habitat needs. Learn more about the bumble bee life cycle, including overwintering and nesting here.

*All information above was copied directly from the Xerces website About Bumble Bees | Xerces Society  Endangered Pollinators | Xerces Society.  Who Are the Pollinators? | Xerces Society

Bee Pollinators

  1. Bumble bees are generalist feeders, often the first bees active in late winter (February) and the last in fall (November). Since they are active for so many months, they must be able to forage on a wide range of plant species in a wide range of weather conditions to support a colony. Early season, and late season resources are critical, as these are sensitive times of the year for successful establishment, and reproduction. Some individual bees in the colony choose to forage exclusively on a single species or a limited range of related plant species, effectively becoming specialist foragers. When foraging, the female bumble bee carries pollen in a concave, hairless area surrounded by stiff hairs on her rear legs, known as the pollen basket or corbicula. This basket can be seen clearly when it is empty⁠—and, when full, the pollen ball pressed into it is obvious.
  2. Bumble bees are able to fly in cooler temperatures and lower light levels than many other bees, and they perform a behavior called “buzz pollination,” in which the bee grabs the pollen producing structure of the flower in her jaws and vibrates her wing musculature. This causes vibrations that dislodge pollen that would have otherwise remained trapped in the flower’s anthers. Some plants⁠—including tomatoes, peppers, and cranberries⁠—benefit significantly from buzz pollination. In contrast to European honey bees, who make large amounts of honey so the entire colony can survive the winter, bumble bees only make a small amount of honey⁠—just enough to feed the colony for a couple of days during bad weather. Since newly-mated bumble bee queens hibernate, they do not need the vast quantity of honey found in honey bee hives.