Sunday, March 13, 2011

A White-tailed Bumblebee in Canada

White-tailed Bumblebee from Europe

In Europe, the White-tailed Bumblebee is a common and well-known species. It nests underground, usually in old mammal burrows. Its range also extends across much of northern Asia.

But Canada has a white-tailed bumblebee too, and it is not the European/Asian species.

The new-world bumblebee with a white tail is found in British Columbia and southern Alberta (as well as NWT, Nunavut, the Yukon and Alaska), and it has apparently not been given a common name. So we could call it the Canadian White-tailed Bumblebee. But because that might make the story too confusing, let's refer to it as the Moderate Bumblebee. Its Latin name, after all, is Bombus moderatus.

Robin Owen, a bumblebee biologist, has recently written about the discovery and ultimate identification of this white tail (HERE).

The Moderate Bumblebee was first described as a new species in 1863. But in subsequent years some entomologists noticed how similar it was to the European White-tailed. In 1991, a bumblebee specialist decided that the Moderate was really no more than a local variant of the White-tailed Bumblebee. So the Canadian populations no longer had a distinct name. They were just more White-taileds.

Owen describes how through his own work and that of others, this situation has now been reversed. Biochemical genetic studies have shown sufficient differences between the white-tailed bumblebees in western Canada and those in Europe, that each deserves to be recognized as a distinct species.

Not only is the Moderate Bumblebee once again seen to be worthy of its own name, it has also in recent years expanded its range in southern Alberta. This is a welcome trend, especially at a time when other bumblebees are disappearing.

[Latin Names: Bombus lucorum, the White-tailed Bumblebee; Bombus moderatus, the Moderate (or Canadian White-tailed) Bumblebee]

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