Nfld. & Labrador

Snap a pic, save a bee: N.L. beekeepers asking for help to protect species

Call it the plight of the bumblebee: little is known about their numbers, making it hard to gauge conservation efforts.

Province joins North American push to increase bumbleebee knowledge

Several bumblebee species, such as this American bumblebee, are facing extinction in North America. (York University/CBC)

Beekeepers in Newfoundland and Labrador have joined a continent-wide push to protect bumblebees, and they are hoping people in this province will help fill in the gaps in our knowledge of the fuzzy, fat fliers.

"We believe everybody should be concerned about the loss of bees, and other pollinators," said Catherine Dempsey, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Beekeeping Association.

Call it the plight of the bumblebee. While there has been much discussion and research worldwide focused on honeybees and their plummeting populations, their plumper cousins have flown under the scientific radar.

Newfoundland and Labrador is no exception to this trend, said Dempsey, with 12 native bumblebee species identified in the province, but little else known about them.

Catherine Dempsey of the N.L. Beekeeping Association says the group is broadening its focus beyond honeybees. (Heather Barrett/CBC)

A press release from the association said "it's almost impossible" to get funding for baseline scientific research on bumblebees, but what is known about the bees is troubling: the non-profit Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation states that 28 per cent of North American bumblebees are threatened with extinction.

On April 22, York University researchers warned the American bumblebee faces imminent extinction.

That's where Bumble Bee Watch comes in.

Citizen science

The website and online database, developed by the Xerces Society, aims to boost bee knowledge by skirting scientific experts and asking regular people to pitch in instead.

People are asked to simply snap a picture whenever they see a bumblebee out and about, upload it to Bumble Bee Watch, and add in some information of where they spotted the bee.

The gypsy cuckoo bumblebee is one of 42 bumblebee species in Canada, 12 of which are found in N.L. (Ivar Leidus/Wikimedia Commons)

"There is a movement towards things that people call citizen science. It's a way to contribute," said Dempsey, adding an entomologist with the College of the North Atlantic has volunteered to sift through the submitted photos to identify bumblebee species.

That data is then compiled by researchers to help determine bee populations and identify conservation needs, and plotted on an interactive map. So far, local bee sightings have been logged from Baie Verte, to Pouch Cove, to the Codroy Valley.

Bee tips

There are a few Newfoundland and Labrador bumblebee facts that might help people on their quest for photos.

Dempsey said bee sightings ramp up in June, when the queen bumblebees — those super-sized bees that seem to defy physics in their ability to stay aloft — are flying about gathering materials for their hives. 

Bumblebee hives are usually much smaller than honeybees, said Dempsey, with about 150 bees per hive, and its worker bee are often seen in the summer months.

Newfoundland and Labrador doesn't have an abundance of land suitable for most pollinators, said Dempsey, as bumblebees prefer flowers to spruce stands or hay fields.

Gardeners may not love Japanese knotweed, an invasive plant, but bumblebees love it. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Northeast Region)

But she did have some advice for people looking to make their backyards bee-friendly, although die-hard gardeners might not approve.

"Much as I don't like it, Japanese knotweed is a really attractive plant to the bees, because it flowers so late in the year," she said.

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