Bumble bees are flying insects that are social and form colonies with a single queen and different jobs or “castes.” Bees are incredibly important to the ecosystem because they pollinate hundreds of wild flowers and allows these flowers to sexually reproduce. The bees forage using color and spatial relationships of flowers when choosing a site to feed. The bumble bees go after the nectar provided by the flowers and use a specialized tongue adapted to lap up the nectar. When a bee lands on the flower, the frequency at which the bee vibrates its wings causes the pollen to “jump” on to the bumblebee. Pollen is also transferred to the bee when it comes in to contact with the anthers of the flower. Upon contact, the bee receives a dusting of pollen that sticks to its hairs. The female bumblebees will return to the colony when full of nectar and pollen to distribute these in to brood cells or wax cells for storage. The mated queens will diapause, (a state of physiologically enforced dormancy), overwinter and emerge in the spring. Unlike honeybees, which hibernate in their hive, bumblebees typically die in the fall.
The Toledo Zoo is turning empty lots around the Zoo and the region into native prairies to benefit many species of wildlife, including pollinators. Bees and other pollinators are unable to pollinate invasive plants that are commonly found in suburban and urban area gardens and therefore, are in decline. Another issue facing pollinators is the existence of mowed lawns where wild flowers are not allowed to grow and mature. Planting native flowers around Toledo will attract native bumblebees.
Toledo Zoo bee research
Biologists and volunteers survey the prairies for bumblebees to determine what species are utilizing these prairie habitats and their abundance. One way of surveying, is to establish transects through the prairies and walk the transect or paths with a net and capture bees in the area to determine the species of the bee. Biologists also gather data on the number of species observed during a specific time period. As the prairies mature, we expect to see a higher abundance of bees and more species of bumble bees utilizing the prairie habitat. Volunteers also are instrumental at assisting biologists in field surveys and studying these habitats.
Bee’s eye view
Get a first person view of what it is like to be a native bumble bee foraging out on the Toledo Zoo’s native prairies. These habitats provide tons of food and habitat for these bees and act to prevent bee populations from declining in Northwest Ohio.
Did you know?
One in three bites of the food you eat everyday is the result of bumble bees. These pollinators are extremely important to our ecosystem and our livelihood. Help by planting native flowers in your garden, reducing the use of pesticides and visiting the Toledo Zoo to learn more about our native bees!