By Genevieve Rowe, Lead Biologist, Native Pollinator Initiative

Sometimes as biologists we get stuck at a desk or in a lab, and sometimes we’re lucky enough to get a few weeks out in the field searching for the animals we are most fond of, and if we’re especially lucky, when we travel we find species that might have been real in our minds but had yet to steal our hearts in person.

Tiffani (left), Alberta Program Coordinator, and Genevieve (right), Lead Biologist, getting the 2019 field work started in Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park. Photo © Tiffani Harrison

This summer, I was lucky enough to have a chance to observe a lot of new bumble bee species as I travelled throughout North America for both work and for leisure, and I can honestly say that while I regularly incorporate many of these species into my daily teachings and into the research I conduct, I didn’t have any sense at all about how unique they might be out in the field. The same way the species I have worked with intimately day in and day out for many field seasons each have their own unique tendencies, or “personalities” if you will, these “new” species delighted me each in their own way, and they most certainly each stole a little piece of my heart. I’d love to introduce them all to you, but instead, I’ll highlight my top three favourite new-bees along with my most un-bee-lievable moment. In the coming weeks, Tiffani and I will introduce you to a few more so make sure you check our posts regularly!

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1. A white-bottomed bee!

A western bumble bee (Bombus occidentalis) worker on prairie rose in Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park. This species at risk has white hair covering the last segments of her abdomen. Photo © Tiffani Harrison

For those of you familiar with some of the work our Native Pollinator Initiative does, the threatened western bumble bee (Bombus occidentalis) won’t be a new name for you. I certainly spend my fair share of time researching this species and monitoring it remotely, but as a biologist based in Toronto, Ontario, I have never had the opportunity to observe it in the field. Not only was its white bottom a delight for me to see, seeing her foraging so successfully in the field gave me a real sense of hope for this species at risk, and a true sense of gratitude for healthy habitats like Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park that continue to support our native bumble bees.

2. A flying “gerbil” (bee)!

A Nevada bumble bee queen (left, Photo © Genevieve Rowe) and male (right, Photo © Tiffani Harrison) observed in Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park.

Ok, bumble bees are big bees among the world’s many bee species, but the Nevada bumble bee, Bombus nevadensis, is big among the bumble bees! A queen of this species is so big that she barely fits into one of the vials we use during our field surveys! When you’re out in the field you can hear her buzzing in from a long way away, and you can see her flying off far into the distance when she decides it’s time to go. What’s more, the males of this species might not be as enormous as the females are, but they are by far the cutest bumble bees I have ever seen—the glint in those eyes was more than enough to melt my heart!

3. A west coast worker!

Vosnesenky bumble bees have bright yellow hair on both their face and along a band on their abdomen that is in striking contrast to the otherwise dark black bumble bee. Photo © Jake Insley

The Vosnesensky bumble bee, Bombus vosnesenkii, is a bumble bee species with a somewhat narrow range along the Pacific coast that extends from southern British Columbia all the way down through California. While its range might be narrow, it is a very common species where it does exist, and this bumble bee season I got the opportunity to meet this busy bee in California where I attended an international pollinator health conference. While I watched this species, I couldn’t help but notice the tenacity of the workers—they wouldn’t let up on a juicy flower no matter how hard it was to get at it!

A Vosnesenky bumble bee worker foraging in San Francisco, California. Photos © Genevieve Rowe

Even though observing all these new species was truly incredible, the real treat, and my ultimate favourite moment from this bumble bee season happened on vacation at a picnic spot at 4,083m above sea level atop South Arapaho Peak in the Indian Peaks Wilderness mountain range of Colorado. After taking a moment to set out some lunch and to pour ourselves a celebratory summit drink, my partner and I decided to capture the unparalleled view before us, and immediately upon reviewing the photograph I noticed that a little bumble bee had decided to pose for the shot too—incredible!

The view from South Arapaho Peak—complete with a bumble bee posing for the picture! Photo © Denis Odorcic

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about some of the magic my summer has entailed! Keep an eye out for bumble bees as the season comes to an end—you might see a species you’ve never seen before, or you might see some new colour patterns as more male bumble bees emerge from their colonies. And of course, keep an eye out for more of mine and Tiffani’s favourite new finds!

– The Bumble Bee Recovery Program