WPC’s Bumble Bee Breeding Lab. Photo: Cole Blair

WPC researchers are hard at work learning how to save endangered species through captive breeding. For bumble bees, their breeding research is tailored to the yellow-banded bumble bee (B. terricola, below) which is listed under Canada’s Species at Risk Act as ‘Special Concern’.

The hope is to establish a self-sustaining population and develop strategies that lead to the releasing of these new queens to further boost the wild populations.

Each year WPC’s Bumble Bee Conservation Lab establishes breeding colonies of the yellow-banded bumble bee. If all goes well in the lab, these colonies produce workers, then males, and finally new queens who will overwinter!

Yellow-banded bumble bee (B. terricola). Photo: T. Harrison

Unlike honey bees, whose colonies survive throughout the winter and whose queens live for multiple years, bumble bees have an annual colony cycle.

Each fall, mated bumble bee queens dig into the earth to hibernate while the remaining colony members (foundress queen, worker bees, male bees) naturally perish. Come spring, bumble bee queens emerge from hibernation to start their colonies from scratch—but not all bumble bees follow the same sleeping schedule! In Ontario, Canada for example, the common eastern bumble bee (Bombus impatiens) is one of the earliest species seen, emerging in mid-to-late April, but other species may not emerge until May or June, like the northern amber bumble bee (B. borealis).

Your Bumble Bee Watch submissions help experts track the seasonal differences between bumble bee species! By sharing bumble bee observations in early spring or fall, your contributions lend insight that can be used to improve hands-on recovery actions for at-risk bumble bees, like conservation breeding.

Yellow banded bumble bee (Bombus terricola) colony at Wildlife Preservation Canada’s Bumble Bee Conservation Lab. Photo: P. Smale.

In addition, WPC rears common bumble bee species to compare colony success, pathogen loads, and other metrics to that of the yellow-banded bumble bee. Choosing which common species to use, however, comes with several considerations to ensure the data generated is valid for comparison.

One of these considerations is the seasonal difference between species. Since the yellow-banded bumble bee emerges earlier in the spring, WPC wants to consider common species that follow a similar seasonal pattern. This is where you come in!

Submitting your observations to Bumble Bee Watch provides WPC’s Bumble Bee Conservation Lab with great insight regarding the similarities and differences of bumble bee species. This year, WPC started breeding the tri-coloured bumble bee (B. ternarius) because it has been found to have a similar emergence time and temperature range as the yellow-banded bumble bee.

Share and explore observations

Your Bumble Bee Watch submissions help conservationists make decisions to support at-risk species, so be on the lookout for queens this fall and next spring as the snow thaws. If you can take a photographs of the bee from a few different angles, that will help experts identify the bee(s) you observe.

You can also explore emergence times of species in your area on Bumble Bee Watch! From the gallery, select the State/Province you reside in and try filtering by different months. What species do you see recorded in April? Do you notice any different species observed in May or June? Depending on where you live, you may even see some recorded in winter months.

Bumble Bee Watch is a collaborative effort led by Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation to track and conserve North America’s bumble bees. Bumble Bee Watch is helping to track imperiled and common species alike to help us understand where to best direct our conservation efforts. Data collected from this community science project has helped to inform endangered species decisions as well as the potential range expansion of some of our more common species. The best part: it’s easy! Next time you’re out in nature and see a bumble bee, take a photo. Then go to bumblebeewatch.org, upload your photo, and we’ll even help you identify your bee!

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