Nest-turned-hive requires rescue mission

bees use their wings to cool nest

Bumble bees turned an abandoned robin’s nest on ISTC’s loading dock into  a toasty habitat. Worker bees furiously beat their wings to cool their brood.

 

A valuable bumble bee colony was rescued from the loading dock at the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) last week and is now is a colony-in-residence at the entomology lab at Illinois State University (ISU) in Bloomington.

 

John Marlin, research affiliate at ISTC and also an entomologist, spotted the bees making its home in an abandoned robin’s nest on the center’s loading dock. Marlin wondered if they were Bombus pensylvanicus, a once abundant Illinois species that has suffered a rapid decline in recent years.

 

Marlin contacted Sydney Cameron, the U of I’s authority on bumble bees about the find. Cameron was traveling so she referred Marlin to Ben Sadd, assistant professor of infectious disease ecology at ISU. The loading dock was soon to be very busy with ISTC deliveries. Additionally the bees were stressed by the 90+ degree weather and as many as seven adult bees were fanning the nest with their wings during the day to cool it. Sadd packed up the nest and moved it back to the cool Bloomington lab.

 

Sadd identified the bees as Bombus auricomus, not as rare, but still of considerable interest. Inside the nest was revealed seven workers a queen tending to healthy brood cells and nectar pots. The brood was in good condition so he said the colony could continue producing. It is the only B. auricomis nest in the facility.

 

Bumble bee populations are declining all over the country as suitable prairie, grassland, and other habitats disappear in both rural and urban areas, Marlin pointed out. Homeowners can help bees by including native flowering plants in gardens and only using soil insecticides when necessary, he added.

 

The plight of many bee species (there are over 300 in Illinois alone) has drawn national attention, including efforts to list some as endangered. The Trump administration halted the protection of Bombus affinis under the Endangered Species Act in January. Congress is debating changes to the act this summer.

 

 

hive inside the nest revealed

Transplanted to a cool entomology lab at Illinois State University, the bees’ brood was healthy.

About Jim Dexter

Communications Coordinator, Illinois Sustainable Technology Center, Prairie Research Institute, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
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