It was a warm spring day, way up north in Kodiak, Alaska, and I was scrambling to take care of garden chores. (Spring happens that way here: One day it’s winter; the next day we’re experiencing 15 hours of daylight and it’s time to transplant seedlings). As I pruned currant bushes, a bald eagle shrieked from a nearby tree and from the corner of my eye I caught glimpses of fishing boats putt-putting out the channel on their way to the fishing grounds.
Pushing the wheelbarrow between raised beds, I couldn’t help but notice a patch of purple and white crocuses blooming through the not-yet-green lawn. Bumblebees were foraging among the flowers. I took off my garden gloves, walked over, and knelt down. Soon a large queen bumblebee, dusted with yellow pollen, crawled inside a blossom and began to wiggle around the base. Slowly. Eventually she stopped moving. Maybe her metabolism was slowing down. I leaned over and breathed into the flower. The bee shuddered and then became still again.
The flower petals were closing in–clamshell style–like crocuses do at night. I left to fix dinner and returned a couple hours later. The flower had clamped shut, but I could see the top of the bumblebee’s wings inside. Would she be there in the morning? Did she crawl inside the flower knowing the weatherman was calling for frost tonight?
I Googled the words “bumblebees crocus” and learned some cool things about these amazing creatures from bumblebee.org:
- Most bumblebee colonies have a yearly cycle.
- Queens that have mated in late summer the previous year hibernate, usually in the soil, and emerge in spring.
- These queens haven’t eaten anything since the previous summer, so they are hungry. This is why it is vitally important that they find early flowers to feed.
- A bumblebee cannot fly unless her flight muscles are at 30 degrees C, so she has to brave the cold weather to feed or else she will sink into torpor and never wake up. She continues feeding and sheltering at night near the food plants in nooks and crannies for a few weeks until her body signals her that it is time to find a nest site.
I confess that I’ve become attached to these humble bumblebees and just ordered some books to help me identify them as the spring and summer progresses. I guess I’ll have to practice carrying my camera around with me in the garden…