Early emerging bumble bee species to look out for this spring
Posted onApril 26, 2022by|, , ,
While this species used to be a common one to see in early spring, western bumble bee populations have been declining since the late 1990s. In 2014, the western bumble bee subspecies occidentalis was assessed as Threatened by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). Wildlife Preservation Canada is currently developing reliable conservation breeding techniques, which will hopefully be used to help recover western bumble bee populations in the future.
Western bumble bee queen on a blanket flower (Giallardia spp.). Photo: T. Harrison
Also known as the black tail bumble bee or the orange-rumped bumble bee, the black-tailed bumble bee is most abundant throughout the eastern United States and north into British Columbia. There have also been records of disjunct populations in the Arctic, northern Ontario, Quebec, and maritime New Brunswick. Black-tailed bumble bees are one of the earliest species in western Canada to start nesting and producing males in the spring.
Three more species of bumble bees you may see emerging early in western Canada are:
Black-tailed bumble bee queen on willow. Photo: T. Harrison
The two-spotted bumble bee is one of the earliest species to emerge in the spring. They get their name from the two yellow spots found on their abdomen. Sometimes the two spots may also appear as a W-shape. Populations of two-spotted bumble bees are stable and they are a very common species in Southern Ontario. You will likely find these early-emerging bumble bees foraging on spring ephemerals.
Two-spotted bumble bee queen. Photo: T. Harrison
Like the western bumble bee, yellow-banded bumble bees have been in decline since the late 1990s, mainly in the southern parts of their range. In 2015, the yellow-banded bumble bee was listed as a species of Special Concern in Canada. That is why the yellow-banded bumble bee is one of the focal species of Wildlife Preservation Canada’s Bumble Bee Recovery Program. This spring, you are much more likely to spot a yellow-banded bumble bee in the northern portions of their range, where their populations have remained much more stable.
Three other species of bumble bees you may see emerging early in central Canada are:
Yellow-banded bumble bee queen on a willow tree. Photo: T. Harrison
While they can be found throughout their range, tri-coloured bumble bees are most common in the northeast boreal forest regions of Canada. They can be easily recognized by the distinct colour pattern on their abdomen and the dark wedge-like pattern on their thorax. In 2021, Wildlife Preservation Canada collected tri-coloured bumble bee queens in Ontario as part of the conservation breeding program to enhance knowledge on bumble bee collection and rearing methods. The knowledge gained from working with this common species will be useful in future work with at-risk species.
Tri-coloured bumble bee queen. Photo: T. Harrison
As the name suggests, the common eastern bumble bee is a common species and is found throughout Eastern North America. In recent decades, their range has expanded further into eastern Canada and even in some parts of western Canada. Their wide range expansion is mainly due to them being transported for commercial pollination. In addition to this range expansion, populations within their historical range have also increased. Due to their abundance, the common eastern bumble bee was collected in 2021 for Wildlife Preservation Canada’s conservation breeding program, alongside the tri-colored bumble bee and the brown-belted bumble bee (Bombus griseocollis).
Three other species of bumble bee you may see emering early in Eastern Canada are:
Common eastern bumble bee queen. Photo: T. Harrison
Now that you know what bumble bees to expect in early spring, it’s time to get out there and start looking! Don’t forget to document any bumble bees you see and report them to Bumble Bee Watch and get experts to confirm your identifications! Bumble Bee Watch helps track bumble bee populations, which is especially important for at-risk species, like the western bumble bee and the yellow-banded bumble bee. Every bumble bee record, especially in the early spring, is a meaningful contribution to the conservation of our beautiful bumbles!