At this time of year when we celebrate Canada Day, Don Scallen celebrates the hardy bumblebee, the “true Canadian” of the insect world.
The lumbering bumblebee queens drone into our gardens in early spring, fuzzy behemoths that are usually heard before being seen. They come seeking sources of nectar to fuel winter-starved bodies.
House hunting is also a priority at this time. A queen may choose an old mouse nest furnished with comfortable grasses, or perhaps she will cast her discerning compound eyes upon the more upscale accommodation of your compost heap filled, as it is, with welcoming, moldering vegetation.
Bumblebees are true Canadians. They wear thick coats of “fur”, and spend a much of their time shivering. (The shivering warms them enough to fly in cool weather.) A couple of species are so hardy that they are able to keep company with the Inuit in the high Arctic.
Their ability to forage in cool temperatures makes them crucial flower pollinators. They are active before honeybees in the spring and are abuzz on cool days when honeybees refuse to budge from the cozy confines of their hives.
It has often been said that bumblebees should not be able to fly. True, their plump bodies obviously lack the aerodynamic characteristics of airplanes.
But there are human flying machines that, like bumblebees, also seem ill suited for flight. It turns out that bumblebee flight has much in common with that of helicopters.
Some bumblebee researchers have tasted bumblebee honey and proclaimed it superior to that of honeybees. Now admittedly a bumblebee scientist might be a tad biased, so why not allow Canadian consumers to make up their own minds? When can we expect to pick up a jar of Billy Bumblebee Honey at our local market?
Unfortunately, not any time soon. Bumblebees make only enough honey for their immediate energy needs. They also have no need to build up stores of honey prior to winter because, alas, most of the colony dies before the snow flies. Only the Queens, who pass the winter in hibernation, survive.
Some species of bumblebee have suffered unexplained declines in recent years. Please welcome them to your garden with bumblebee friendly plants.
Let’s keep these hardy Canadians happy. Why? Think about that question when you bite into a juicy tomato fresh off the vine, or as you enjoy the lip-smacking sweetness of blueberries. Pollinating bumblebees make such healthy pleasures possible.