Archive for August, 2020

Seen anything fun?

Friday, August 28th, 2020

While sightings should always be reported to Bumble Bee Watch, so they are accessible for conservation focused analysis, it’s not the same as being to tell like-minded folks about a cool sighting. New species for you? New County record? Track down one of those unsampled ecoregions to fill the vacuum of knowledge? See an unusual color morph? A challenging male?

Tell us about it!

Our Photos and Images

Monday, August 24th, 2020

All of the photos were taken within Washington state, unless otherwise indicated.

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Commercial use is not permitted without prior authorization and approval.

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Please contact us if you have any questions or would like to obtain higher quality images for your use.

Gardening for Bumble Bees

Tuesday, August 18th, 2020

Julie O’Donald, lead editor, November 2020

For bumble bees to thrive at least three (3) key needs must be met at the landscape level:

  • food (nectar and pollen), from early spring thru to the fall
  • shelter, a place to raise her young and for the new queens to overwinter
  • water

Shelter may be as simple as maintaining areas where fallen leaves and other debris are not disturbed, leaf mulch or brush piles, neglected clumps of grass, stumps in the landscape, fallen logs, old bird houses, stacked wood or rocks.

Most bumble bee queens overwinter in brush piles or leaf litter.

A favorite nesting site is an abandoned rodent burrow, so those moles add ecological value in so many unforeseen ways!

What is key is to have some part of your landscape that is not tilled, turned or disturbed. Underground burrows are easily impacted by such activities.

In nature, bumblebees are found in prairies and mountain meadows where there is an abundant diversity of native wildflowers. An effective way to invite bumble bees to our gardens can be achieved by planting native flowering shrubs that grow in riparian zones and along forest edges.

The Washington Native Plant Society plant list titled “Water-Wise Gardening with Pollinators” supplies an extensive list of native plants that appeal to native bees. Here is a link to their gardening website.

To see a great example of gardening for pollinators using native plants, visit the Pollinator Meadow in Everett. Reservations required.

Please use plant lists found at for your region. Xerces has a Habitat Assessment Guide to help you evaluate your yard from a pollinator friendly perspective.

Below is a list of native shrubs that are easy to grow and available for purchase at native plant sales. Many other native shrubs, trees and wildflowers will increase diversity that further supports bumble bees.

Flowering dates are provided as an approximate guide to help gardeners create an overlap of flowering plants that will be used by bumble bees. Note that dates may differ by several weeks from year to year and region to region.

As a starting place for your garden, consider the follow plant species:

Early spring: February, March, April

  • Arctostaphylos species (varieties of Manzanita)
  • Mahonia species (varieties of Oregon Grape)
  • Lonicera involucrata (Twinberry, a shrub honeysuckle that attracts bumble bees from April to July)

Mid-season: May, June, July

  • Physocarpus capitatus or malvaceus   (Ninebark native to the Pacific NW, avoid ornamental eastern sp.)
  • Frangula (Rhamnus) californica (Coffeeberry is native to California. Grows in full sun with good drainage. Flowers in June)
  • Symphoricarpos species native to the Pacific NW  (Snowberry) flowers from mid-spring through August, attracting bumble bees the entire summer!)
  • Vaccinium ovatum and parvifolium, (Evergreen and Red huckleberry)
  • Ceanothus thrysiflorus (Blueblossom). Mountain and east side native species of Ceanothus can be found.
  • Native maples (vine, big leaf, Douglas)

Late: August, September, October
(new queens need to feed before overwintering!)

  • Helenium autumnale   
    (Autumn helenium, seek the species form of this wildflower not cultivars)
  • Heterotheca villosa      
    (Hairy goldenaster, an east-side wildflower that grows well in west-side gardens)

In coastal regions non-natives carry this season with New England Aster, hardy Fuchsia, and Strawberry tree. Plants that flower until frost feed new bumble bee queens and other pollinators until they overwinter.

Please don’t collect native plants in the wild. They often transplant poorly and are likely to die in the process.

In addition to native plant sales, regional native plant nurseries are specialists in selling native plants for habitat.

Support local growers who offer healthy plants that will best adapt to gardens.

Pacific NW Coastal Region Native Plant Nurseries:

Go Natives

Tadpole Haven Native Plants

Native Plant Nurseries East of the Cascades:

Derby Canyon Natives

Humble Roots Farm and Nursery

It is also important to think at the local landscape level. Asking your city council or county commissioners to put a priority on native pollinator habitat is very important, and an easy win for your local elected officials to provide.

There are many resources for developing/supporting landscapes beneficial to native pollinators. One such link comes from the Xerces Society: Northwest Meadows Landscapes. There is also a vendor of native seeds for restoration planting based in Warden, WA. Their website is:

Native Bee Conservation

Thursday, August 13th, 2020

Native bee populations are rapidly diminishing, when viewed at the landscape level. Habitat loss and habitat degradation are two of the largest threats. This bodes poorly for plant species that depend on them for pollination services. As native bee populations decline, they pollinate fewer individual flowers. Fewer flowers pollinated results in fewer viable seeds, reducing chances for future new individual plants.

As native plant diversity diminishes an ecosystem can get into a negative feedback cycle: fewer bees–>less pollination–> fewer fertile seeds–> fewer plants–> fewer flowers–> fewer bees–>less pollination–>fewer fertile seeds–>fewer plants–> And the cycle spirals downward.

A good place to start understanding the conservation challenges facing native bees is with the 2020 winner of the Yale Environmental 360 Video Contest: Helping Native Bees Thrive in a Honeybee World

Native bee conservation and the honeybee.

Scientists are also now starting to get the uneasy feeling that (honey)bees compete for floral resources and give our native pollinators a serious run for their money. The mere presence of managed honeybees also reduces the native species’ abundance through spatial displacement – perhaps bullying is a better description.  Ruud Kleinpaste (NZ)

Honeybees are non-native to North America, having been brought to this continent starting in the early days of European colonization. In colonial days, honeybees were as important for their beeswax for candles as they were for their honey. Now honeybees are highly valued for their ability to pollinate thousands of acres of commercial crops in a few short weeks before they are boxed up and shipped off to another part of the country to repeat the process of pollination on another large scale agricultural crop.

Honeybees are very important for modern agricultural systems to work. Honeybees are facing a lot of serious problems because they are treated more as a commodity than living creatures–including high exposure to agricultural chemicals, crowded conditions leading to viral and mite infections, and often maintained on a less than optimal diet so the honey they produce to eat can instead be sold commercially. Honeybee conservation is very important to our agricultural interests.

Unfortunately the presence of honeybees in an area may be a good indication that our native bee populations are already depressed and negatively impacted–by the presence of the honey bees.

Honeybees compete directly with our native bees for resources in the form of nectar and pollen. A honeybee hive contains between 30,000 and 80,000 individuals at the height of summer. It takes a lot of nectar and pollen to not only feed and raise all those young honeybees, but also to make the many pounds of honey they store to live on during the winter. The pollen and nectar collected by honeybees is pollen and nectar not available to our native species.

The honeybee hives and their concentration of bee hosts pose a threat to native bees from a pathogen transfer potential, virus, bacteria, mites, etc…

For the most part Nature plays a zero sum game. There are few uncontested resources in the natural world. Everyone needs to eat. Food is rarely consistently plentiful. Survival of the fittest.

Honeybees, being supported by humans, have a competitive advantage against our native species.

Our natives need all the help they can get.

You can help!

Habitat is the Key to Wildlife

The fun thing about native bees is that, just like the movie, if you build it they will come. Build a garden that is. See the section on Gardening for Bumble Bees for more details.

By planting a variety of native plants so there are blooms available throughout the season we encourage and support all the species of native bees we already have sharing our community spaces.

Big flowers, little flowers, fruit trees, berry bushes. A diversity of plant species and their flowers from early spring into the fall will help your local native bees. Always prioritize native flowering plants and recognize co-evolution occurs.

Please meet with your city council and county commissioners, asking them to prioritize pollinator habitat management on city and county properties. Focusing attention on pollinator friendly plants when landscaping decisions are made can make a great deal of different to our native pollinators. It is their community too–make them feel more at home!

There are a lot of good resources out there for landscape level management for native pollinators. One such link from the Xerces Society is Northwest Meadowscapes.