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Encourage bumble bees to nest in your garden by providing a safe and suitable habitat for searching queen bees and increase pollination in their backyard.
If ever there was a misnomer, it is the poorly understood bumblebee, aka the ‘humble bumble’.
Yet, the bumblebee is anything but. With 50 times the pollinating power of honeybees, the humble Bombus is, in fact, a crucial link in the pollen chain and is fast becoming essential to some of our most lucrative horticultural producers.
The story of bumblebees in New Zealand started some 130 years ago, when they were introduced from England specifically to pollinate red clover (Trifolium pratense), a popular pasture choice for new farms. Happy to fly in cooler temperatures, and in some cases, all year round, the bumblebee is a fantastic pollinator for the home gardener and should be celebrated.
In collaboration with New Zealand entomologist Dr. Barry Donovan, BeeGAP has designed and developed a new and improved Bumble Bee Nest Box - helping home gardeners provide a safe and suitable habitat for searching queen bees and increase pollination in their backyard.
In New Zealand, we have four species that were imported:
Each species has distinct variations of black, yellow and orange markings.
Bumblebees can work in conditions honeybees can't.
Along with their long tongues, the insects use "buzz pollination" or sonication, meaning they vibrate their bodies to cause pollen to be released, sometimes in a visible cloud. In this way, they gather more pollen than many other insects and create extremely effective cross-pollination as they move on to the next target while literally covered in pollen.
And if all else fails, bumblebees have yet another clever tactic. For particularly deep-throated flowers such as broad beans, they simply use their long proboscis to nip a hole in the base and go straight to the source of otherwise inaccessible nectar.
Artificial nest boxes have been used for many years to encourage wild bumblebee queens to develop colonies.
Encouraging bumblebees to your garden provides increased pollination, greater fruitset and cross pollination benefits. Additionally, nesting boxes provide increased habitat for searching bumblebee queens, with reduced natural habitat potentially becoming a real issue.
The traditional nesting boxes have a small diameter hole in the front of the box, which often becomes hidden and which makes it difficult for searching queens to discover.
BeeGAP’s slot entrance hive overcomes the disadvantages of small entrance nest boxes outlined above. A slot entrance which is approximately 250 mm long and 25 mm high has an entrance area of 500 square mm. This is 10 times greater than a hole of a diameter of 25 mm which has an area of 49 square mm, and so is many more times likely to be found by a queen.
A slot entrance is far less likely to be completely or even partially obscured.
The narrowing of the V-shaped entranceway hole at the rear of the base of the hive which provides access to the nesting chamber above simulates a tunnel.
In New Zealand, the recorded uptake rate of the traditional nesting boxes have been approximately 30 percent, whereas in other countries, the uptake has been significantly lower.
Alongside Dr. Donovan, BeeGAP has designed, developed a nesting box that has proven to provide an increased uptake rate in comparison to traditional nesting box designs.
During the last five years, Dr. Donovan’s research has shown our newly-developed nesting box to have a 90 percent uptake rate - potentially three-times greater than that of the existing nesting boxes.
Unlike the small diameter hole seen on the traditional nesting boxes, the new and improved nesting box boasts a slotted front design, which enables far greater and easier access to the habitat - hence the increased uptake percentage.
Placing our newly-designed nesting box, or boxes, in suitable locations around the garden will provide a greater opportunity for searching bumblebee queens to take up residence in your garden.
An ideal position for your bumble bee nesting box, is nestled in amongst some bushes, flowers or shrubs. It should not be in direct sunlight, however dappled sunlight is perfect. The nest box should be placed on the ground and checked occassionally so that the entrance slot doesn't become too obstructed by leaves, tall grass, sticks etc.
In many areas of the North Island, bumblebees are active all year round, while in the Central North Island and South Island areas, hibernation generally occurs during the winter months.
The species Bombus subterraneus became extinct in the UK late last century (it still exists on the continent) and after being imported to New Zealand over 100 years ago its population has declined drastically here.
Despite the demand and growing awareness of bumblebees, the Bombus subterraneus is possibly on the verge of extinction . . . the last of its kind in the world.
Our new slotted front nesting boxes are being used in a concerted effort to increase numbers of Bombus subterraneus in and around various sites Mackenzie and Central Otago commencing late August 2018. This project is in conjunction with Plant & Food Research, Dr. Donovan and support from the New Zealand Bumble Bee Conservation Trust (NZBCT).
Exact numbers of Bombus subterraneus are unknown, but Dr. Donovan – who studies the dwindling species – says the situation "is sounding rather ominous".
The species was abundant in the 1960s, with one person catching 80 queens in one day, but searches in the last two years have found just two insects.
"The meagre evidence we have very strongly suggests that numbers have been decreasing rapidly," adds Barry, who is trying to catch the bumblebees and establish man-made colonies in Christchurch in order to study and conserve their numbers.
Their disappearance here echoes their story in England over the 1970s and 1980s, leaving the New Zealand population as the only one left in the world. "Extinction here is possible,” Barry said.
“They went extinct in England after living there since the last Ice Age. They went extinct there in just a couple of decades, so there is no reason why the same couldn't happen here. Then that raises the gigantic question of why."
English researchers believe the loss of natural habitats and a reduced range of wildflowers – a key food source – due to intensive agriculture were the main factors. Barry says he is also concerned that in New Zealand, a devastating disease may have been introduced to the population, but no one knows for sure.
On a bigger scale, Barry says the loss of the Bombus subterraneus signals the continued "degradation of the biota of the entire world". "We live in a gigantic ecological web, with everything interacting, supporting and competing at the same time, but the more the fabric of that web breaks down, the more instability there is of the entire web. So the extinction of anything undermines our own security."
Please note: this product does NOT include bumble bees.