Monday, June 28, 2010

A Bumblebee Workshop

I attended a bumblebee workshop on the weekend. Our session leader was Sheila Colla, a grad student at York University and an internationally known expert on North American bumblebees. The event was held at the Evergreen Brick Works, a unique, re-naturalized habitat and education center in Toronto, Canada.

Right: Sheila Colla uses a plastic vial to trap a bumblebee for observation.

The workshop dealt with the life history and biology of bumblebees. And we heard about the pollination services these fuzzy, black-and-yellow bees provide. Colla placed particular emphasis on the decline of a number of key bumblebee species in Eastern North America, in particular that of the the Rusty-patched Bumblebee, now on the edge of extinction. In fact it was Colla's own research that demonstrated beyond doubt the sad situation of this once common species.

Our workshop leader provided a handy guide to the color patterns of some of the most common local species. She also gave us the opportunity to view museum specimens so that we could see just what the diagrams referred to on real bees.

Then the best treat of all. Colla led us out into the field, to patches of wildflowers in the surrounding area. She pointed out several species, including the Two-spotted Bumblebee and the Red-belted Bumblebee.

We were shown a clever technique that anyone can try. Colla was able to place a plastic medicine vial beneath a bumblebee busily foraging on a flower and then quickly pop the cap on, trapping the bee inside. It was easy for all of us to examine the living specimen, harmlessly confined for a few minutes, while Colla pointed out the identifying characteristics. Once the demonstration was over, the bee was released to go back about its business of pollination.

The workshop was part of the celebration of International Pollinator Week, 2010. Sheila Colla is co-author of a new field guide to bumblebees, expected to appear later this summer. I'll be one of the first to start using it as soon as it's available.

You can learn more about Colla and her work on her website:

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