Dr Una Fitzpatrick from the National Biodiversity Data Centre gave us a very informative presentation on bumblebees and pollinators on August 9th 2013. Here are some of the key pieces of information she imparted:
- In addition to the honeybee, Ireland has 20 bumblebee species and 80 solitary bee species. 4 of these species are endangered and 2 are vulnerable.
- Only the honey bee lives in colonies/ hives and produces honey.
- Bumblebees live alone. Their nest is either on, or just underneath the ground surface
- They do not have a food store like a honey bee. They make a little wax pot and keep at most 2 days supply of nectar in it. Which means if the weather is too poor to fly, a bumblebee can quickly starve.
- The queen emerges in spring, then sets about gathering food and laying eggs to provide workers. Once the workers are in place, the queen remains in the nest and dedicates herself to producing more eggs. At first, these will be more workers, but later in the season, she will lay queens and males, who will then leave to start their own nests.
- Queen bees are made from fertilised eggs; if the egg is unfertilised, it will hatch into a male bee!
- South-facing earth banks are a favourite nesting site. Look for little holes in the bank
- Their favourite colour is purple, followed by blues and pinks.
- A good source of nectar for newly-hatched bees in early spring is willow
- The two biggest threats to bee numbers are loss of habitat and climate change
- The later, cooler springs are putting pressure on bumblebees. Plants are flowering later, and there is less for bees to eat when they emerge
- Species-poor modern grassland and hedgecutting are two issues which impact dramatically on bee habitat.
- If you want to make your garden more pollinator-friendly but still have a lawn, why not leave a 1 foot strip around the edge to grow a little longer? perhaps only cut it every 2 or 3 times you mow the rest of the lawn. This will allow flowers to bloom and will provide cover for all manner of little creatures.
- If you would like to know more about what flowers and plants support pollinators, the Bumblebee Conservation Trust’s website is a fantastic resource: beekind.bumblebeeconservation.org/finderYou can use it to see how bee friendly your garden currently is, and to see what flowers are recommended for each month of the year. You can filter by colour, if you’re trying to plan a colour scheme for your garden, or if you leave the filters blank, you will get 14 pages of bee-friendly plants.
- If you would like to know more about bees, or help to record sightings so that the Data Centre can monitor numbers, visit www.pollinators.biodiversityireland.ie