Are Bumblebees Back in My Garden?

Bee-on-orange-Zinnia

I hope so, and thank the zinnia for feeding those fuzzy-butt bees. I think this is a female Common Eastern Bumblebee, Bombus impatiens. It is big and fuzzy.

Orange-Zinnia-Bee

I was noticing the lack of bumblebees in the garden the last number of years and learned they are disappearing at an alarming rate.

In the image above if you click to see it bigger, I think the bee has mites. It was very uncoordinated as it went from flower to flower, appearing a bit sick.

Bee-on-Yellow-Zinnia

Some bumblebees are no longer in their former territories. Not fully understood as to their disappearance, it is likely what you might have guessed – loss or fragmentation of habitat, pesticide use, overgrazing by livestock, competition with honey bees, climate change, low genetic diversity, and nonnative pathogens. No surprise there since it parallels honeybee decline.

Bee-Zinnia-Orange

Surprisingly, a long study done on bumblebees found some species plummeted by 96% while other species were doing very well (source).  This is the puzzling part since they have no clue why some and not all. This is an article worth reading.

Bee-Butt

Bees are hard to identify since so many species of bee exists. Bumblebees especially have numerous members, yet six are most common.

Bee-on-Zinnia-2

Bumblebee feeding on Zinnia

If this is a sick bumblebee, I feel very bad for it since I rarely see them in the garden any longer. The garden gets a variety of bees, just not many bumblebees. They used to be very numerous too.

Bee-flight

Just to further understand the loss and reason why, download the Conserving Bumble Bees. Guidelines for Creating and Managing Habitat for America’s Declining Pollinators from The Xerces Society. This is an informative paper. There is so many interesting facts on bumblebees – like bumblebees are able to fly in cooler temperatures and lower light levels than most other bees. This is really important for the variety of crop pollination and a longer growing season. They also mention how gardeners can help the bumblebees. If you care on what you will be eating in the future, you might consider helping out these native bees. See the garden coming up… In the Mix – Late July. But first, what is on the dill?

On Nature and Wildlife Pics are more and different bees I shot with a 105mm macro lens. See the sidebar for the link to that post.

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About Garden Walk Garden Talk

I love to photograph, paint, draw, design, garden, travel the world, and pass on a few tips and ideas that I learned through experience as a Master Gardener and architect. I am highly trained in my field and enjoy my work each and every day. I garden in Niagara Falls, NY in zone 6-B. Find me at: http://gardenwalkgardentalk.com
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45 Responses to Are Bumblebees Back in My Garden?

  1. These are great pictures!

  2. Mike says:

    Nice article. I’ve been getting a lot of bumblebees now that the coneflowers are blooming. They seem to enjoy those more than anything else.

    • Coneflowers are coming up on GWGT and bumbles are visiting them too. I used to get far more bumblebees in the garden, but now only a few a day. I attribute this to my neighbors and their landscape practices. Ground dwelling bees are especially in trouble in our neighborhood. Bee, wasp and hornet extermination happens frequently!!!!

  3. Eulalia says:

    beautiful pictures… Wonderful Bumblebees

  4. Christie says:

    Love the bumblebees! Yes, they are back in full force at our farm. You will love the European Barging trip thru Germany. I’ve been on many European Rivers and it’s just a fabulous way to travel!

    • I was so accustomed to seeing them, but with our drought, have been seeing less insect activity in the last number of years. I have been watering the garden almost daily here this year to help out our flying and crawling friends. But my neighbors spray and I fear I lure insects to their deaths as a result.

  5. Emily Scott says:

    It’s quite common for bumbles to have mites so you’re probably right. Sad that you are seeing less of them. From what I’ve read and heard experts say at talks, bumble bees are more vulnerable than honey bees in many ways, including sensitivity to pesticides and climate change. As they don’t swarm and send colonies into new areas (as honey bees do), their populations can’t move quickly when climate change occurs. They also forage over smaller areas, so it’s very important that they live in areas with enough food.

    Living in the ground as many bumbles do also probably makes them more vulnerable to humans. Most of the calls to the British Beekeeping Association’s swarm line are actually not about honey bees but bumble bee nests which people find in their gardens. Sadly some people decide they cannot live side-by-side with the bumble bees and decide to move or destroy the nests. A beekeeper I know offered to collect a nest but the owner was too impatient and decided to destroy it by pouring boiling water over the poor bees.

    • I too read what you noted, “populations can’t move quickly when climate change occurs”. You mentioned them living and feeding over a small territory, and in my neighborhood that is so true. My property is an island in a sea of foundation shrubs and lawn turf, all heavily sprayed. Neighbors also don’t tolerate the bees, wasps and hornets in this area and like in your area, call in the exterminators. Too bad that person didn’t let you collect the nest. Sad. I think when food is critical and less available, people will get it.

  6. M@Home says:

    Ah the bee topic! We have a massive problem in South Africa, our honey bees got infected with a virus (hope that’s the right word) from outside, their hives and all are turning black and killing them. It is SO sad, there are a lot of projects going on to try and save them and so many people are not realizing the reality we face if they do not survive.

    • I agree. Times are becoming serious in so many ways and food production will suffer, either from drought or bees being lost. I cannot imagine these issues will be solved. Certain places will be far more affected than others, so what happens then?

  7. Wow! What spectacular shots!

  8. gauchoman2002 says:

    Amazing photos Donna. As with every post, you seem to outdo yourself with the quality of the pictures that you take.

    I’ve been more attuned to the bees in the garden the last few years and am always struck by the huge variation in the coloring and appearance of the bumblebees. They range from almost all black, red stripes, traditional yellow and black, it’s pretty amazing. Considering all they do for us humans, it’s nice to see bees getting the attention and respect they deserve.

    • Thank you. I too used to be amazed at the variety of bumblebees. Now I just see two common ones. I am always on the lookout too. I wish all the focus in recent years did not make people apathetic. That is what happened with so many of the issues we face. Remember clean air and water? Now climate change has people burying their heads. Drought, flooding and extreme weather? I am not sure it has sunk in yet. Bees were “popular” the last two years in the press, and now I am not so sure how it affects the populous. We still have food, so people just look at things as status quo.

  9. catmint says:

    fantastic macro pictures, Donna. Makes me want to stroke their soft downy hair. Must have been difficult to capture with all the fast movement. The demise of bee populations in so many places is a worry.

    • Thank you. Not really, the bigger bees are rather docile and sit nicely. The bees in flight I had the macro lens on the camera and it is not to good for getting depth of field. It is almost impossible to focus on the moving bee with that lens, even set at a larger f-stop. I was at f10 too.

  10. Haha the bee in the National Geographic photo is a carpenter bee, not even a bumbler

  11. But your Bombus impatiens here is actually increasing dramatically, so don’t worry too much about them!

    • I am glad to hear that. They are the only bumble in my garden at present. I used to get a variety and have only seen the Eastern. I did see a smaller one, but could not identify it.

      • Could it have been a small worker? Your photos are of a queen.

        • Thanks, maybe. I will have some more images of the bumblebees in another post. I probably photographed the little one too. I was going to do a post on all the bees in the garden, then I thought how few I really can identify correctly. Two I learned from you, and I now know them each time I see them. One was, Peponapis pruinosa, Squash Bee and the other, Anthidium maculosum, Wool Carder Bee. I get a hoot out of watching both of them.

  12. Most years, the bumbles are plentiful here. I was worried earlier in the summer because I didn’t see as many bumbles as in the past. I volunteer at the UW-Madison Arboretum, and the other volunteers and the director of the native plant garden were noticing the same thing. Then, the Monarda bloomed, the heat came on, many other prairie plants started blooming, and the bumbles were back in full force! The Arboretum is great organic habitat for the bumbles (as is my tiny garden). The Arb is one of the only places left where you can find the Rusty-Patched Bumblebee (Bombus affinis). Very sad.

    • I see mostly Carpenter bees and honeybees on my Monarda. A post on Monarda is coming up showing a few special visitors. The bumblebees are also on the coneflowers, but I have them in a post only on coneflowers coming up. While my garden is always buzzing, I can tell when certain insects are visiting less frequently. I attribute it to my neighbors’ landscape practices.

      • I’m guessing your garden is bee heaven, Donna! I know what you mean about neighborhood landscaping practices. I think that’s part of the reason I wasn’t seeing as many bumblebees for a while. It’s concerning. Great post, as always.

  13. I’ve got some fuzzy butt bees too and am very happy about it. Still waiting for my monarchs though.

    • I am glad to hear that. I hope they increase in my garden now they appear to be returning. I have had a number of Monarchs. We have a Monarch farm that releases them, so my garden sees them more than it used to. I was asked if I wanted to raise them, but decided my garden is too filled with wasps and spider. I keep an eye on a Black Swallowtail caterpillar growing on the dill, but I fear his days are numbered. I see so many wasps visiting the dill.

  14. The bumble bees are in decline here in New Zealand too, along with our native bees. Funnily enough I went to a honey farm today. But I must say it has been a while since I saw any bumble bees.

    • I have read that in your area. I think it is reported more since New Zealand is so “green” in their thinking and actions. Australia too. Both countries don’t let in foreign species do they? Or even pet dogs without extended quarantine?

  15. Indie says:

    Glad to hear you are seeing bumblebees again, though that is unfortunate they might be sick. I’ve seen quite a few this year in my garden. My catmint, especially, has been full of them, which is great to see.

    • I suppose many bees visiting have mites, and bumblebees are clumsy anyway. But it did look more wobbly than normal. I have catmint as well. Two huge patches of it. The bees like it, but seem to prefer other plants in the garden right now. When the Caryopteris and Perovskia finally blooms (I cut Perovskia back severely early this year to prolong and have later bloom) the bees will be in heaven.

  16. Bumblebees seemed scarce in spring and early summer but not they are quite numerous in our garden. Their favorites seem to be the Tithonia, Monarda, and Cup Plant.

  17. mbkircus says:

    Magnificent pictures. You might also want to join one of the bee projects, so your data can be included in the larger picture of of numbers and kinds of bees. https://www.greatsunflower.org/

  18. That is sad that the bumbles are declining around you for so many reasons. I am blessed still in my garden to have so many bees of all sizes. But the meadow and swaths of blooming natives and annuals have helped them come back. When I first gardened here I only saw honey bees….now the honey bees are few and far between and the native bees are making a home….but my neighbors are killing the bees and any other insect they don’t like…so we shall see if the native bees can survive.

    • I have bees galore in my garden, just not as many bumblebees as previous years. I find many of the non-native plants and annuals are swarming with bees right now. The zinnia, Perovskia and Caryopteris have more bees and bee variety than any native plant in my garden. The native with the most right now is Agastache, but still nowhere near the other mentioned plants. Even the white sage is lagging behind. Native bees will survive, but habitat is declining daily. I fear more for the low genetic diversity causing low tolerance to the pathogens. Increasing herbicide and pesticide use is killing all insects.

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