Thursday, September 4, 2014

Citizen Science: E-Fauna Photographer Adam Blake Confirms Breeding Eastern Bumble Bees in BC

 Mating Eastern Bumble Bees (Bombus impatiens), photo by Adam Blake

When SFU entomology graduate student Adam Blake submitted his first photo of a queen and drone bumble bee mating out at Boundary Bay, it looked like it was going to be an important image.  As he indicated in the photo details, it looked like mating Eastern Bumble Bees.  On E-Fauna BC, we had already confirmed the presence of escaped eastern bumble bees in BC as we had received several photos taken in BC. But confirmed breeding would be significant.

Robbin Thorp, author of the recently published Bumble Bees of North America, took a look at the photo and confirmed the species identification and indicated that this was, indeed, a mating pair of Bombus impatiens. Robbin says:  "Interesting photo indeed!  And frightening.  These are a mating pair of the Eastern Bumble Bee, Bombus impatiens.   [It confirms] earlier photos suggesting this eastern species, introduced for use for commercial pollination in tomato greenhouses, has escaped and is now established in southwestern BC!"

Given this, we had to ask: why is the Eastern Bumble Bees being used in greenhouses in BC?

Robbin says:  "In the 1990's we had the Western Bumble Bee, Bombus occidentalis, available for pollination in the western states and provinces. But in 1997, both commercial producing companies reported an outbreak of a pathogen, Nosema bombi, in their rearing facilities and they stopped producing colonies of the western species shortly thereafter. Now we only have one NA bumble bee available as a managed pollinator...There is interest in developing commercial production of a western species for western markets, but it looks like that is too late.  It will be interesting and disturbing to follow the invasion of this eastern species in the west, with your area as a focal point for established and potential subsequent spread.  Unfortunately bumble bees do not need passports to cross international borders and being so close to [the US] border, it would seem only a matter of time before we have B. impatiens in WA and who knows where else in western NA."

Adam now has two photos up on E-Fauna BC confirming the breeding of this species in BC. Congratulations, Adam, on submitting such significant photo records!

Mating Eastern Bumble Bees (Bombus impatiens), photo by Adam Blake

Adam is a PhD candidate in entomology at Simon Fraser University, studying with Gerhard Gries.  His "research deals with insect communication, specifically the use of polarized light as a foraging cue in herbivorous insects."  Adam moved to Burnaby from Edmonton, Alberta to pursue his PhD in the fall of 2012. Previous to that he studied at the University of Alberta where he received both a Master's and undergraduate degrees. He is an avid naturalist and photographer with an interest in insects, birds and plants.  

View the E-Fauna atlas page for the Eastern Bumble Bee here.
View a video taken by Adam of these mating Eastern Bumble Bees here
Read our previous post on Robbin's bumble bee book here
Read Adam's blog. 

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