The sound of summer, or the backdrop of buzzing as I like to call it, is never far away as we venture outdoors to bask in this rare British summer. While we’ve been lapping up sun-soaked days across the UK, our insect friends have been making hay while the sun shines.
For bumblebees, mid-summer is a time when they are at full-force and have the most hungry mouths to feed. At this time, bumblebee workers are busily scavenging the countryside for flowers from which to collect nectar and pollen to sustain themselves and their colonies.
Buff-tailed bumblebee finding nectar. Dave Wilson (photo credit)
Worryingly, we have been receiving reports from people around the country who are noticing fewer bees than usual at this time of year. Although we won’t know the full picture until later in the year when our BeeWalk survey results are in, we do know that the hot weather can affect bumblebee activity for a few reasons.
Beeing cool, the bumblebee way…!
It is essential for bumblebee nests to remain at around 32°C for the optimal development of eggs and larvae. When temperatures start to rise, individuals switch tasks to become air-conditioners, positioning themselves on the edge of the nest entrance, fanning cool air into the nest with their wings. The hotter it gets, the more bees join in, which can mean there are fewer bees out foraging.
They are able to do the opposite when temperatures drop too, literally buzzing to keep warm.
Thirsty plants mean thirsty bees
Bumblebees and most other pollinators get their drinking supplies from floral nectar. Unfortunately, the long dry spell we’ve been having lately means that nectar is running low, with reports of some flowers turning to potpourri on their stalks! Nectar also provides these vital insects with the fuel they need to power themselves through their daily activities.
With little rain forecast and temperatures set to remain high, it is really important to remember to water your garden (if you’re lucky enough to be in an area without an impending hose-pipe ban) so bumblebees have enough to eat and drink.
A very cool looking Common Carder Bumblebee showing off its long tongue
How you can help…
This week, from the 9th to the 15th July, is Bees’ Needs Week. This is an annual event organised by the UK government’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) as part of its Pollinator Strategy. It is a week when organisations and people come together to celebrate and raise awareness about bees and other pollinators. The aim is to encourage absolutely everyone to take some simple steps to help make our most dedicated insect civil servants’ lives that little bit easier.
There are five simple key messages which we can all take from this week to help us play our part in helping pollinators.