Bumblebees are the first heralds of spring when pollinating

Bumblebees are the first heralds of spring when pollinating

Due to their size and their loud buzzing sound when flying, bumblebees are well-known representatives of insects, which today play an increasingly important role in human cultural history.

With the death of many urgently needed bee colonies due to the use of pesticides and the environmental problems of increasingly narrow habitats, the importance of bumblebees in terms of plant pollination became more and more important. The bumblebee was once even a ghost in people's minds.

Bumblebees in popular belief and as spirits of the dead

bumblebee hummel 1In the past, according to old superstitions, bumblebees represented an embodiment of witches, who could assume this form if they left their own body to do so. According to another superstition, villains should appear in bumblebee form as punishment after their death. Bumblebees buzzing underground were even feared as spirits of the dead. According to superstition, the devil also assumed the form of a bumblebee, and so it was at times customary to put a bumblebee in the mouth of the participants of black masses instead of a host. In Swabia, the bumblebee was feared as a disease demon and a bumblebee was even buried to combat a cattle disease.

The popular belief of the money-bringing goblins, which should be locked in the form of bumblebees in the purse and would protect it from drying up, is different. A honey thief who manages to steal the honey from the bumblebees unnoticed should also find great treasure.

The increasing importance of bumblebees in pollination

bumblebee hummel 2The bumblebees were also seen as weather prophets. In a Franconian legend, the bumblebee appears as a herald of spring. In general, the flight of the bumblebee is supposed to indicate upcoming spring or sunny weather; if the bumblebees don't fly out, it's supposed to rain. Far more than just peasant wisdom.

Today, however, the knowledge of the importance of the bumblebee is much more advanced and attempts are made to use the bumblebee more intensively in the pollination of plants, and in particular to propagate the protection of the bumblebee. The most powerful instrument of bumblebee protection is an adequate supply of food with bumblebee-friendly wild plants, herbs, perennials, shrubs and trees over the entire bumblebee year from mid-February to the end of October.

Especially in early spring from mid-February to March and in summer from mid/end of July to the end of October, the supply is often insufficient. In residential areas, this effect is intensified by the fact that insect-friendliness has played at most a subordinate role in garden culture in recent decades and therefore many flowering plants that are largely worthless for bumblebees (and other insects and birds) have become widespread in gardens and green spaces, e.g. B. forsythia, magnolia, common lilac, cherry laurel and many cultivars with double flowers. Insect-conscious hobby gardeners, garden/landscape architects and municipal green space offices now often plan their new plants or redesigns with the help of relevant flowering calendars, which indicate not only the flowering time but also the nectar and pollen value of the various flowering plants.

If you plant the right plants, you can support them all year round

As soon as spring arrives and the sun slowly warms up the earth, the new bumblebee queens crawl out of their hibernation quarters. The furry wild bees can fly at temperatures as low as two degrees above zero. With their tiny muscles in their thorax, they generate heat by shivering and thus reach a body temperature of up to 30 degrees. Bumblebees are therefore among the first flying pollinators of the year.

Tom Bluth, wild bee protector at the German Wildlife Foundation

bumblebee hummel 3But the first trips of the year are a strenuous affair for the bumblebee queens. The food supply is not particularly plentiful in spring. With the help of a small honey sac filled with nectar inside the body, the insects manage to survive the first hours of the still cool days. "The protein and carbohydrate-rich nectar is the fuel that the bumblebees need to fly and reach body temperature," explains Tom Bluth, wild bee conservationist at the German Wildlife Foundation, "but the bumblebees now also need pollen rich in protein and vitamins for their flight development of the ovaries to reproduce.”

In the wild, the number of flowers unfortunately decreases rapidly. It is therefore very important that sufficient forage plants are provided for pollinating insects in gardens or on balconies. "If you want to help bumblebees, plant early-flowering stone or pome fruit such as plums, cherries or apples, or willow and maple varieties, service pear and dogwood and berry bushes," explains Bluth. Suitable bulb plants, which can also be planted in tubs on the balcony, are grape hyacinths, snowglow, crocuses, winter agarics and squills. Wild perennials such as hellebore, coltsfoot and shepherd's purse also provide bumblebees with vital pollen and nectar early in the year.

bumblebee hummel 6When the queen bumblebee has strengthened herself sufficiently, she starts looking for a nesting place. Depending on the species, these are mouse holes, hollow trees, dense turf or bird nesting boxes. This is where the queen lays her first eggs and continues to diligently collect nectar and pollen to feed herself and her brood. When the first workers hatch after a few weeks, they take on the care and other tasks, such as guarding the nest and feeding the brood. From then on, the queen stays in the nest and only takes care of the reproduction. By summer, most bumblebee colonies have reached their peak of development. At this point, up to 600 animals live in the nest and new bumblebee queens and drones are already being raised again.

"Due to the increasingly hot and drier weather from May onwards, bumblebees often have a bottleneck in their food supply well into August," explains Bluth. Now red, horn and white clover help, but also viper's bugloss, knapweed, kitchen herbs or thistles, which are cultivated until autumn. "Anyone who also allows wilderness in their garden can watch bumblebee-friendly plants grow for free," recommends the wild bee protector.

Myth of stinging bumblebees

bumblebee hummel 4A widespread rumor has it that bumblebees cannot sting. In fact, workers and queens have a fairly large spine; Drones - like all male stingers - do not.

When stung, a poison is transferred to the victim. In an emergency, for example if you step on a bumblebee, it can lead to an immediate sting. The same is also possible when holding a bumblebee. Otherwise, however, they rarely sting and warn beforehand with a defensive reaction. First, they raise their middle leg toward the attacker. When threatened, they throw themselves onto their backs, stretching out their spikes in the attacker's direction, and growling loudly as they do so. If you don't retreat, you can attack. Since bumblebees, which are less agile than honey bees, may hold on to the target with their mouthparts in preparation for a sting, they may appear to bite during their attacks.

In humans, the sting pinches only slightly, but a sting can also be painful due to the injected venom, which differs from the venom of bees. The consequences are pain, redness, itching and swelling. Like the stings and venoms of bees and hornets, bumblebee stings are harmless to most people. Only for allergy sufferers is there a risk of a severe allergic reaction. A bumblebee's stinger has no barbs, so it doesn't get stuck in the victim like a honey bee's.

In collaboration with

Jenifer Calvi / Press Officer / German Wildlife Foundation
Christoph-Probst-Weg 4
20251 Hamburg

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Life | Outdoors