Generalist foragers, bumblebees are everywhere – and that’s good

Physicist Albert Einstein once said that if bees disappeared from the earth, humans would only have four years to live. The truth in this statement makes us think about pollination and its importance.

Pollination is an essential part of plant reproduction. The pollen grains of the floral anthers, the male part of a plant, must reach the stigma, the female part of the same species, by air by the wind or carried by a pollinator.

Then, the fertilized flower gives fruits and seeds. Of the 1,400 plants grown worldwide that produce our plant-based food and industrial products, nearly 80% require pollination by animals, primarily insects.

The different types of bees are the most important pollinators. Honey bees and wild bumblebees are globally the main pollinating insects. Bumblebees have stocky, hairy, and sturdy bodies, with black and yellow coloration. They are of variable sizes and colors. The largest of Minnesota’s 24 species is about three-quarters of an inch long. As generalist foragers, they end up pollinating everything from peppers to potatoes, tomatoes and cucumbers, squash and cranberries, melons and berries, sunflowers and fruit trees, forest trees and shrubs, wildflowers and much more.

Lately, Sandy and I have been observing bumblebees on hosta flowers in our garden, as well as prairie plants such as bee balm and prairie white clover. Bumblebees forage in cool, unfavorable weather better than other bees and forage for nectar and pollen in early spring, early in the day and on cloudy days.

The rusty-spotted bumblebee became Minnesota’s state bee in 2019 and can be identified by a rust-colored spot on its fuzzy yellow abdomen. It can be found in grasslands and grassland areas in the Twin Cities and beyond.

When leading nature interpretation walks, I sometimes stop to pet a bumblebee drinking nectar and gathering pollen from a flower. Yes, it is safe to use a finger to gently stroke a feeding bee. This simple gesture prompts many questions from walkers, and also leads them to want to try petting themselves before continuing. Never has a child or an adult been stung while stroking a bumblebee on one of my walks.

Bumblebees are not aggressive or likely to sting. These workers seen on garden flowers and various wildflowers only sting when they feel threatened. Their stings, however, are painful and could be dangerous for allergy sufferers.

Other remarks:

  • A dozen species of birds, including Baltimore orioles and American robins, arrive at the birdbaths in warm weather.
  • Purple coneflowers attract many species of butterflies including red admirals and monarchs who come to drink their nectar.
  • Black bears in northern Minnesota feed on ripe wild raspberries and blueberries.
  • Wild rice is in full bloom in the central and northern parts of the state; the grains of rice will be ripe in early fall.

Jim Gilbert has taught and worked as a naturalist for over 50 years.

About Maria Hunter

Check Also

Glass Onion’s Rian Johnson Confirms Joseph Gordon-Levitt Cameo In Knives Out Sequel

Some filmmakers are known to frequently collaborate with the same actors, like Tim Burton, Christopher …