By Minal Abhange
The sound of a bumblebee nearby can cause panic in some people, but for Dr. Barry Hicks, it’s music to his ears.
Over the last few years, the decline in bumblebee numbers has generated a lot of buzz — this time, however, it’s for a good reason.
Dr. Hicks is an entomologist who teaches biology in the Comprehensive Arts & Science (CAS) Transfer: College-University program at College of the North Atlantic’s (CNA) Carbonear campus. He has joined a collaborative project with the Newfoundland and Labrador Beekeeping Association (NLBKA) to promote the Bumble Bee Watch.
“Declining bumblebee numbers are very concerning and over the years there is a gradual impact on both agricultural crops and native plants,” says Hicks.
Citizen Science Project
The Bumble Bee Watch is a citizen science project collaborated through the partnership of The Xerces Society, the University of Ottawa, Wildlife Preservation Canada, Bee Spotter, The Natural History Museum in London, and the Montreal Insectarium. It is supported by a team of volunteer bumblebee experts who verify the identification of every sighting submitted.
Hicks has volunteered to be the regional expert to identify citizen-science bumblebee sightings. He is also setting up a network of native bee collection sites across this province with the plan to accurately identify the bees and conduct long-term monitoring, which would gather more data inclined towards protecting the future of bees in Newfoundland and Labrador.
To participate, members of the public are asked to create an account on https://www.bumblebeewatch.org.
Once they have an account, they only need to take a picture whenever they see a bumblebee out and about, upload it to the Bumble Bee Watch website to start a virtual bumblebee collection and add in some information of where they spotted the bee.
All collected data is then compiled by researchers to help determine bee populations and identify conservation needs, and plot it on an interactive map.
“The idea behind the Bumble Bee Watch program was to encourage, connect and educate citizen scientists on the vital role bumblebees play in our environment,” says Hicks. “With an army of citizen scientists spread across the country armed with cameras, this project aims to collect diverse data; to track and conserve remnant populations of rare species before they go extinct.”
According to Hicks, bumblebees are native to Canada with over 40 recorded species widely spread across all corners of the country, and they are not too difficult to spot. He says they look quite different from honeybees and solitary bees. The main difference is that bumblebees are usually bigger and are always covered with thick hair.
“They are large, black and yellow fat and fuzzy; their familiar buzz heralds the start of spring, and they are easily found around blooming flowers – take a look around gardens, parks or other green spaces around your home or cottage to get started,” says Hicks.
He could not emphasize enough the vital role bumblebees play with buzz pollination.
“Bumblebees play a big role in pollination – they are capable of performing buzz pollination. It is a process of pollinating flowers through rapidly contracting their flight muscles, which creates strong vibrations to release pollen from flowers that would otherwise be inaccessible. This ability makes them particularly effective at pollinating a number of wildflowers, fruits and vegetables.”
Hicks added that spotting a variety of different bumble bees in different regions, with the help of the Bumble Bee Watch, will enormously impact the environment.
For more information on this province’s bees, visit the website of the Newfoundland and Labrador Bee Keeping Association at www.nlbeekeeping.ca.