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Bumble bees

From MB

I’ve been keeping mason bees for four years now and earlier this month I came across something I have never seen/read/heard about before.

One afternoon I noticed a big bumblebee — a big bugger, about twice the size of a mason bee with a tiger-striped orange abdomen — hanging around my mason bee houses and fussing about at the end of one of the tubes. I later observed the same bumbler entering already occupied tubes on more than one occasion. I figured the bumbler was simply stealing the pollen already gathered by the mason bees — you know: working smarter, not harder.
Then one evening I was checking the mason bee house with a flashlight and noticed that in four of the tubes, there was a thick, viscous liquid inside. The taste test doesn’t lie — it was honey.
I emailed Margriet and asked some of the questions running through my mind: Is this common? Do bumblebees hijack mason bee tubes for themselves?
I already have 20 tubes filled up so I have more than enough mason bees for next year. I’m no interest in killing the bumbler but its behaviour was fascinating.
Since then I did some research and, combined with my observations, I have concluded the bumbler in question is an orange rump bumblebee queen (Bombus melanopygus) who has apparently made an odd choice for a nesting site (image: Queen). She had taken possession of a row of four mason bee tubes, each of which contains globs of honey. If you look inside the tubes in image: honey, the little gleams of light are actually the blobs of honey. (I have a better shot of the honey but I can’t get my email to work on my iphone right now).
She goes in and out of the tubes but has to back out of them because she is too big to turn around inside like a mason bee can.
One evening when I returned home from work I was lucky enough to watch as the queen used her wings to fan the entrance to one of the tubes (image: bumbler1A). I’ve read about honeybees doing this at the entrance to a hive so it was interesting to see. When she was finished, I was able to get the second shot (image: bumbler 2).
There are also now a couple of worker orange rumped bumblebees on site and one of them has taken possession of another tube. They are much smaller — but still bigger than a mason bee — with just a dab of orange on the end of their butts.
I have two mason bee houses located side by side but the bumblers show no interest at all in the other house. The bumblers are now very active as you can see by the heavily stained appearance around the end of their tubes (image: tubes). I believe this is caused by dirt and pollen tracked through the honey by the busy bumblebees. They are still producing honey.
From all appearances, the bumblebees have set up shop in the empty mason bee tubes for the remainder of the summer. I have 10 empty ones left so there still room for expansion.
Thanks Michael B.  for some great photos and some neat observations.-Margriet
Bumbler IA

Bumbler 2



Queen



Honey on base of tubes

Today I stopped by a Oliver Woods Recreation centre in Nanaimo (BC Canada).  It is a beautiful facility.

What really took my fancy were the beautiful raised flowerbeds at the entrance to the building.  Very welcoming.  The colours were stunning.  On closer inspection, bumble bees liked this array of flowers too.

At the end of summer bumble bee colonies stop growing and the colony begins to produce queens and males.  Queens mate with the males or drones and then hibernate over the winter until the following spring.  It is important to have well fed drones so they can fly and mate with the queens.  Flowers that provide nectar for bumble bees are a must.  The flowers in these photos are great nectar producers as the presence of these bumble bees indicate.

Most of these bumble bees are males.  Males usually have yellow heads.

This bumble bee is Bombus vosnechenskii

Grow flowers and they will come.

This beautiful and wonderfully scented rose is a mega-attractant to bees.

 A old variety that has a great capacity for nectar production.  It was quite amazing to see so many bumble bees in  one flower. It was like they were standing in line for some nectar.  Bumble bees were so busy getting into the flower they took no notice of the photographer.
This rose bush stands about 4 feet tall.

This rose is so attractive to bumble bees that at one
point there were 6 bees inside this one flower.

More bees in this rose.

Two bumble bees ready for flight.
This is a large new queen that will be
hibernating over the winter.
Joe S. from Burnaby showed me his ‘bumble bee house’.  He told me he always has swallows and chickadee nests up and often they are used by the birds.  And ever so often the chickadee nests are used as a bumble bee nest.  So this year, he asked around if anyone had an old chickadee nest, to please pass it on to him.  He received one placed it in an old chickadee nest, and bingo, the bees arrived.  Chickadee nests have quite a lot of hair in them, and he believes this might be the attractant, like a mouse nest.  I am going to try this, but first I need a chickadee nest.
One guard, checks out the photographer. The splatter pattern
 on the outside of the box is the feces of the bumble bee.

To make the box more to their liking, the bees even
plugged up the large crack at the front of the box.

This is one of my favorite flowers!  Dandelions are a welcome color in the spring and they are a great source of both nectar and pollen for bees and other insects.  

Most gardeners believe dandelion flowers are a nuisance weed and therefore it has to be removed from their green lawn.  


If a gardener provides lots of flowers, more bees are in the garden and it generally means better pollination for fruit trees.




This honey bee (left hand side) and mason bee are too busy feeding on a dandelion flower to notice
the photographer Dave M.  Port Alberni, BC.

 

Kathy- Langley, BC sent me these photos of a bumble bees nesting in a bird house last spring. 

This is not an uncommon occurrance.  Bumble bees will nest in the ground, in a wall, in a bird house or other structure that will keep the weather out.  Bumble bees nest within insulation, grass or other similar materials.

Birds bring nesting materials like moss and grasses into their bird house and leave after their young have hatched. 

“When you see them up close they have an incredible amount of pollen on their back legs.  The opening into the bird  house is 1 1/4″ so you can see how huge they are.”

 
Underneath the moss is a bumble bee colony.  One bumble bee guard is walking on the surface of the colony.



This is a guard- watching out for predators.




Bumble bee on the left is cooling the colony with its wings.  The bumble bee on the right seems to be ready to go and gather more pollen and nectar for the young bees.




Coming in for landing.




Resting after a long flight.




Making room for a larger colony by removing excess moss material.



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