There’s a new bee in town
White-tailed species arrives from Banff
A buzz is circulating about a new species of bumble-bee, bombus moderatus, that has been spotted in backyards across Edmonton.
The fuzzy pollinator has a distinctive white bottom, and usually prefers northern and mountainous regions. Although typically found in Banff, northern B.C., the Yukon and Alaska, it was first discovered in Edmonton this summer.
David Walter, a scientist at the Royal Alberta Museum, said he first stumbled upon the species when his friend spotted a bumble-bee under his deck.
“He never noticed them before,” Walter said. “I did some research and figured out what it was.” Walter later saw one in his yard. “I had to see it in my own backyard to believe it,” he said with a laugh.
Some were spotted in Calgary in the past few years.
Matthias Buck, assistant curator at the museum, said he isn’t sure why the mild-mannered bees have come to Edmonton, but one possibility is that a cool, wet summer has made for suitable conditions.
Another explanation is that they are filling a vacancy after other varieties of bumble-bees in the area have rapidly declined.
“Here we see a species that is actually doing well and expanding its range … it’s good news,” Buck said. “Some bumble-bees are becoming so rare they are on the brink of extinction.
The western bumble-bee, which once flourished, is now scarce. It was frequently found in Barrier Lake and Calgary, but the population went into decline in the past 10 years.
Walter said that diseased bees brought over from Europe may have contributed to the decline.
There are 20 species of bumblebee in Alberta and 50 in North America.
Bumble-bees are social insects
"You really have to abuse bumble-bees to get stung by one."
Matthias Buck, RAM curator
that have a hierarchy of workers. The entire species dies off when cold weather sets in, except for the young queens who hibernate.
When the queens emerge at the beginning of the season, they work solo and find a nest to lay eggs. The worker bees hatch first and help to build. Once the workers are in place, the queen rarely leaves the hive.
Bumble-bees are not considered aggressive and only the females have stingers.
Buck said at this time of year, the bumble-bees people encounter are mostly males, as they hatch at the end of the season.
When bees approach humans, Buck said, it is because they are inquisitive, not aggressive.
Often times they are attracted to colourful clothing.
“You really have to abuse bumblebees to get stung by one,” Buck said.
Bumble-bees feed off of the nectar of a variety of plants and are essential to pollinating many plants and crops. They are excellent for pollinating tomatoes and peppers, and frequent gardens with clover and thyme.
The new winged residents are welcomed by green thumbs.
Edmonton Horticultural Society president Jan Ogilvie said that “more bees are better.
“From a gardener’s perspective, in the circle of life, the bee is a good thing. Those big, fluffy guys are just doing their thing for nature.”