Wildlife Preservation Canada’s bumble bee season officially began in the spring, and I had the opportunity to be a student volunteer for two weeks at the start of the 2022 field season and am here today to share my experience. In working with the Bumble Bee Recovery Team, I learned so much about native bumble bee conservation and the work that goes into the start of the season. From conducting the first surveys of the year to getting the breeding lab ready for bumble bee queens, there is a lot to do at the beginning of bumble bee season!

Bumble Bee Recovery Team conducting a roadside bumble bee survey and floral assessment. Photo: S. Evans.

In the field

Out in the field, I joined the team for the first bumble bee surveys of the season. In addition to surveying for bumble bees, we completed floral assessments to collect data on early-blooming flowers, which are an essential food source for bumble bee queens in early spring. While there might not have been much bumble bee activity during these surveys, they are important to identify trends in bumble bee emergence, flower blooms, and other variables such as weather. Despite it being normal to not see much activity early on, I was still a little sad that I had not seen a bumble bee yet.

I couldn’t help but wonder if I would ever get to catch a bumble bee!

But, as the days got warmer, the bumble bees slowly started to emerge, and I finally caught a bumble bee for the first time – a beautiful two-spotted bumble bee (Bombus bimaculatus). After I spotted her foraging on a willow tree, I got in position, lined up my net, swung – and missed. The bumble bee then began to fly around me, and I swept my net again, trying to catch her as she flew. After a couple more swings and misses, I finally lined up my swing just right and watched as she flew right into my net. It felt amazing to have caught a bumble bee for the first time and I couldn’t wait to do it again!

After catching her in my net, I then put her in a vial until the end of the survey. At the end of surveys, we then release the bees we caught, after getting important information like species and caste (queen, male or worker). All this information is then used to track bumble bee species and ultimately has the goal of helping to save declining species.

The first bumble bee queen I caught, a two-spotted bumble bee (Bombus bimaculatus). Photo: S. Evans.

In the lab

In the lab, I learned about all the work goes into getting ready for the arrival of bumble bee queens to our conservation breeding program, in our specially designed lab. One important task is preparing “pollen balls.” Pollen balls are nutritious mixtures of pollen and nectar. The artificial nectar is mixture of water and sugar, with some amino acid supplements and feeding stimulants added for health and to encourage them to drink. To make pollen balls, the nectar is mixed into pollen to form a malleable dough. The dough is then rolled into small balls and weighed to ensure each bumble bee is fed the perfect amount of food. Giving each bumble bee a measured amount of food also allows us to compare the results of different breeding methods independent of food quantity. Rolling and measuring tiny 0.4 g pollen balls takes a long time, but is well worth it to make sure the resident bumble bees have tasty little snacks to keep them happy and healthy!

Parker Smale and Sarah MacKell making nectar in the lab, left. Stacey Evans making pollen balls, right. Photos: S. Evans.

During my experience volunteering with the Bumble Bee Recovery Team I learned so much about the work that goes into native bumble bee conservation. After finishing my volunteer placement, I was given the opportunity to stay on the team as a Bumble Bee Conservation Technician. Having learned what I did about working with bumble bees, I was so excited to get to work with the Bumble Bee Recovery Team for the rest of the season!

Stacey Evans

Bumble Bee Research and Outreach Volunteer

Stacey is a student from Fleming College’s Ecosystem Management Technician program, where she has learned about monitoring, assessing, and managing ecosystem health. She is currently completing a volunteer field placement with WPC’s Native Pollinator Initiative. Stacey has a passion for pollinators and hopes to learn more about them and their integral role in ecosystems.