Queen Quest: the search for overwintering bumble bees
How you can help researchers understand where bumble bees spend the cold months
Bumble bees are an important group of pollinating insects for Michigan agriculture. Bumble bees’ quintessential large, fluffy bodies help them tolerate the chill of Michigan’s spring season, verifying their MVP status in pollinating many spring-blooming crops like blueberries and cherries.
But populations of bumble bees face serious threats across the globe, and in our own backyard. Habitat degradation and fragmentation across landscapes have contributed to bumble bee declines, and conservation efforts are underway to plant attractive flowers to support these summer bee populations.
However, bumble bee queens are “partially social” animals, meaning they live in colonies in the summer, and are solitary in the winter. We know a bit about where bumble bees preferentially nest, such as the preference of some species to nest along forest edges. But we know very little about the biology and habitat preferences associated with the solitary phase of development, or “overwintering”, of bumble bee queens. In order to conserve bumble bees during all life stages, we need to know where bumble bee queens are overwintering. Now there’s an effort to do just that, and you can help!
A group of scientists have launched Queen Quest, a collaborative public science program to understand where queen bumble bees overwinter across North America. If you are interested in helping, just get a few friends together, develop a fun team name, and go questing! This can be done in a few hours, and could be in your garden, in a park, or anywhere where you think there might be a bumble bee nest. The group wants to know where bumblebees are (and are not) found. Finding these nest sites will help conserve bumble bees by informing the development of improved conservation programs.
The Queen Quest website at www.queenquest.org has all the information necessary to get involved, including literature resources, a step-by-step protocol, and information on where to look. Everyone is welcome to participate, so please help put Michigan on the Queen Quest map!