Thursday, April 13, 2017

The Latest Buzz on Pollinators

Easter Cucurbit Bee - Peponapis pruinosa © Alex Surcică

Pollinators are animals (mostly insects but some mammals) that fertilize plants, resulting in seeds and fruit. Humans and other animals rely on pollinators to produce nuts and fruits that are essential components of a healthy diet.  Also, pollinator help is needed to make the seeds that will become the next generation of plants.
World-wide, pollinator populations are shrinking and several factors are contributing to this disturbing global trend. 
Habitat destruction along with chemical use are major contributors to ongoing declines in pollinator populations. You can help reverse this troubling trend by planting a pollinator garden and limiting chemical use on your property. 

In 2017, thanks to the
efforts of the Xerces Society, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the rusty patched bumble bee as endangered under the Endangered Species Act.

Why?  Rusty patched bumble bees contribute to our food security and the healthy functioning of our ecosystems. Bumble bees are keystone species in most ecosystems, necessary for native wildflower reproduction and for creating seeds and fruits that feed wildlife as diverse as songbirds and grizzly bears. Bumble bees are among the most important pollinators of crops such as blueberries, cranberries, and clover and almost the only insect pollinators of tomatoes. Bumble bees are more effective pollinators than honey bees for some crops because of their ability to “buzz pollinate.” The economic value of pollination services provided by native insects (mostly bees) is estimated at $3 billion per year in the United States.

Rusty Patched Bumble Bee - Bombus affinis © Dan Mullen

Have you seen a rusty patched bumblebee?  Submit a sighting!

Meanwhile, scientists have some wild ideas about solving the bee problem.  Eijiro Myiako, a researcher at Japan's National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, thinks there may be a technological fix. He and his colleagues have developed an insect-sized drone capable of artificially pollinating flowering plants!

Are you a beekeeper?  Penn State’s Center for Pollinator Research needs your help! Through a beekeeper-scientist partnership, you can help identify landscape features that promote honey bee health. The Center is looking for interested beekeepers in Pennsylvania and surrounding states to be a part of this project.  Registration closes May 31st.

Are you interested in becoming a beekeeper?  Check out Penn State's online Beekeeping 101 course.

Keep up with the latest research on pollinators at Penn State’s Center for Pollinator Research and the Xerces Society.

If your Bucks County garden club, library, EAC or other group would like a Master Gardener presentation called "The Latest Buzz on Pollinators" we can help!  Contact us at

-- Kathleen Connally
Master Gardener Coordinator
Master Watershed Steward Coordinator
Penn State Extension - Bucks County

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