Washington Bumble Bees in Home Yards and Gardens

Washington Bumble Bees in Home Yards and Gardens

FS263E
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David Pehling, Snohomish County Extension Assistant, Jenny Glass, WSU Diagnostic Plant Pathologist
To better conserve and protect bumble bees in home landscapes in the Pacific Northwest, this publication aims to develop public awareness and appreciation of bumble bees and their role in pollination. It will also help readers recognize bumble bees, understand their general life cycle, and suggest things homeowners and the general public can do to encourage these fascinating and beneficial insects.
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Bumble bees, with their robust bodies, colorful bands of “fur” and audible “buzz” while in flight are the most well recognized of the native bees in Washington State. Equipped with pollen-collecting hairy bodies and “pollen baskets” on their hind legs for transport, plus the ability to “buzz pollinate” flowers when necessary, bumble bees are effective pollinators of many crops, (Figure 1) home garden plants, ornamentals, and native plants. Some researchers are concerned that bumble bee diversity and abundance in North America are in decline. WSU Extension is hopeful that public awareness and appreciation of bumble bees and their role in pollination will encourage homeowners to better conserve and protect bumble bees in home landscapes here in the Pacific Northwest.

This publication will help readers recognize bumble bees, understand their general life cycle, and suggest things homeowners and the general public can do to encourage these fascinating and beneficial insects.

Figure 1. Bumble bee pollinating blueberry bloom. Photo by Dave Pehling, WSU Extension Snohomish County.

Bees are just one of the families in the order Hymenoptera that also includes ants, wasps, and sawflies. Washington State has at least 23 species of bumble bee, but several of them have similar black, yellow, or reddish markings, so identification can be difficult. To add to the difficulty, considerable variation exists within species and, in some species, the males can look quite different from the female workers and queen bumble bees of the same species. Online keys are available to help with identification (Koch et al. 2012).

In western Washington some of the most common species may include the black-tailed bumble bee (Bombus melanopygus; Figure 2), the fuzzy-horned bumble bee (B. mixtus)(Figure 3.), and the Vosnesensky, or yellow-face bumble bee (B. vosnesenskii; Figure 4). Common eastern Washington species may include the red-belted bumble bee (B. rufocinctus; Figure 5), the Nevada bumble bee (B. nevadensis; Figure 6.), and the yellow bumble bee (B. fervidus; Figure 7).
Figure 2. Black-tailed bumble bee, B. melanopygus. Northern form. Photo by David Hofeditz, WSU Snohomish County Master Gardener Volunteer.
Figure 3. Fuzzy-horned bumble bee, B. mixtus. Photo by David Hofeditz, WSU Master Gardener Volunteer.

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