To you who resist using scientific names, sorry. But most of the common names are so confusing
as to be completely unhelpful, and I have omitted them. For example, the early spring, brilliantly red Bombus melanopygus has a common name of "Black-tailed Bumblebee", even though its black tail is almost hidden from view. The scientific term does roughly translate to black-tailed bumblebee, but using the scientific name is far less confusing even if at first it is harder to learn or to pronounce.
Sadly, scientific names are themselves far from clear sometimes. Bombus californicus is being given a new scientific name or rather is having its species status demoted to subspecies status. This demotion, combining it with a second species - B. fervidus of the eastern U.S. - based on genetic tests -- certainly not based on appearances -- is trying. Californicus / fervidus is one of several bumbles that are hugely different in appearance but are identified as one species based on genetics and not on appearance and location. At some point there will be a pendulum swing the other way, just as in the birding world for a while Baltimore and Bullocks Orioles were combined into a single species Northern Oriole, based on some hybrids showing up in the mid-west.
So thus it is that I made this poster partly because to highlight some of Nancy's work, and partly in response to two new Bumblebee books that are both exciting and exasperating. Bumblebees of the Western United States and Bumble Bees of North America are two books with much in common, including some of the authors and some of the content. They are rich in content and overwhelming in confusion. The challenge of, and from my unscholarly point of view, the error made with these books, is a singular determination to speciate bees based significantly on characteristics that can only be determined by capture and kill techniques. While capture and kill certainly results in one type of accurate result, and does reveal subtle and fascinating details, it clearly has its limits including in promoting reproductive success of bumblebee populations as well as in limiting identification to only a few specialized labs and researchers.
|B. californicus (fervidus) female|
|Bombus californicus (fervidus) male|
|B. vosnesensikii male|
|B. vosnesenskii female|
There you have it. Of course, now as we head into fall, field study slows hugely with most bumblebees closing camp and dying or (if new queens) headed to ground until spring. Mid-September and we have seen a few fat new queen vos, laden with fluids and calories, and a few workers of a couple of tenacious fall species are still out there. In the meantime, over the next few months we will sort through photos and observations and work on both this and other pages about our native pollinators.
Bumble Bees of North America, Paul Williams et al, 2014
Bumblebees of the Western United States, Jonathon Koch et al, 2012
Xerces Society, bumblebeewatch.org