If you live in Edmonton and have spent any time outside this spring, you might notice something big buzzing about.
The bumblebees are big.
“This big bee went past me,” said Tim Fitzpatrick, who was out tending to his Edmonton garden on Wednesday in the hot sun.
“It was the size of my thumb. It was pretty round, I’d say.”
Westlock farmer John Guelly has not only noticed the size of the bees, but the sheer number of them.
“Every time you stop and look at the crop or (go) wandering around this year, it seems like there’s bumblebees everywhere. I don’t remember ever seeing this many around in the last few years,” he said from his farm north of Edmonton. “It’s a good sign.
“I kinda like it. I’m kind of a bug guy so, you know, bumblebees aren’t doing any harm to me or my crops, so I’m happy to have them around. They’re definitely a healthy insect to have around.”
Those who study bees say the larger insects out now are bumblebees, which are larger than the typical honeybee.
“Bumblebees usually have a larger body size than honeybees. Particularly at the beginning of summer, you see larger individuals than later because those are the queens of the colony and those are particularly large,” said Olav Rueppell, a professor of Honey Bee Biology and Health at the University of Alberta.
He added that it’s not necessarily the case that people are seeing more of the bugs flying around.
“I wouldn’t say we’re seeing more than normal, I think we’ve been getting used to seeing less than normal. Hopefully these sightings are a good sign that maybe some of the insect populations are on the rebound, because they have been declining for many years now,” he said.
“I like to say that one-third of all of our food is pollinated by insects, and honeybees and other bees are particularly good pollinators. It’s particularly the interesting food. So we would still be eating our cereal, probably, but the fruit, the nuts, the vegetables — all these high-value crops — rely on insect pollination.”
Declining populations have been reported worldwide, according to Rueppell. While there’s no scientific evidence to suggest populations are on the rebound, he said the anecdotal evidence is promising.
“Anecdotal observations are just that, anecdotes. But if we have sufficient numbers of that, then we can think about, ‘OK, maybe we should do a scientific study’ and really control and monitor long-term and see what is actually going on,” he explained.
“I am optimistic. People always ask me whether the honeybee is in danger of going extinct and I’m saying that’s probably not going to happen because the beekeepers are doing such a good job at keeping their colonies alive. They are splitting the hives, they are making up for losses.”
Rueppell said people should value bees and other insects as they’re valuable contributors to our ecosystems. He encourages people to do their part, and perhaps think twice the next time they’re compelled to pull out a dandelion, for example.
“Maybe not pulling out that dandelion. Even though we all strive for green grass, the dandelion is pollen and nutrition for our colonies.”