Dumbledores and Bumblebees

Bombus-impatiens_Mary Keim_CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

It may interest you to know that one of this generations’ most iconic characters, Dumbledore, takes his name from an Old English term for the bumblebee. It’s easy to see why J.K. Rowling could be so inspired, bumblebees never seem incessantly busy like their honey-crazed counterparts and they tend to “bumble” along alighting among flowers on warm summer days, unfazed by the world around them, while humming to themselves. It’s probably due to this relaxed attitude and the simple joy of saying the word “bumble” that these charming creatures have secured a place in our hearts as some of the world’s most loveable and interesting insects. They’re easy to watch, we get to look at flowers while watching them, and this adventure requires spending some quality time outside, basking in the summer sun. What’s not to love about a dumbledore?

The Common Eastern Bumblebee (B. impatiens) has been domesticated and mass-produced as a crop pollinator, particularly for large-scale tomato and sweet pepper greenhouses, since the early 1990s. It is one of the most widespread and abundant species in the Eastern US and adjacent Canada. It is a generalist, adapting well to a variety of habitats, nectar sources, and climates. Photo courtesy of Mary Keim.

Perhaps it’s because bumblebees feel so common that more has not been done to track their conservation status over the past 50 years of the IUCN Red List. A decline in common species is one of the silent challenges facing nature conservation simply because detailed records are often not kept for species that have historically been everywhere. Thankfully, members of IUCN’s Bumblebee Specialist Group have been keeping track and compiling preliminary assessments of bumblebees for some time now. What these conservation heroes have discovered is that, in fact, some species are in —> Read More