The decline of bees worldwide has been of scientific and public concern in recent years, yet their diversity in Canada is not fully understood. From drilling through wood, cutting leaves, or even mining through the ground, the behaviour of bees is incredibly varied. There are over 800 native species of bees in Canada, 400 of which are found in Ontario, and 16 of those are bumble bees. Native bumble bees, in the genus bombus, are not to be confused with honey bees, in the apis genus. Honey bees are not native to Ontario and are managed by humans for their honey production.
As with all pollinators, bumble bees play a significant role in ecosystem health, food security and human health. Bumble bees often pollinate crops such as berries, since they travel shorter distances than honey bees. Their longer tongue make them more efficient at pollinating some native plant species, which they can forage from in cooler weather than honey bees. Sheila Colla, an ecologist and professor who has long advocated for native bee conservation, argues that the conservation of local bee species should not be valued for their benefit to humans alone.
Climate change threatens native bees by creating conditions favourable to some invasive species, which leads to the spread of disease and increased competition. Honey bees, which are not native to Canada, have evolved to feed from native plants best, so they can outcompete native species for food.
The primary cause of bumble bees’ population decline is habitat loss and land fragmentation, along with pesticide use. In other words, human behaviour is driving the decline.
On September 2, 2020, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada submitted 21 new assessments of species at risk. Twelve of these species are found in Ontario, including two bee species: the American bumble bee, listed as ‘special concern’ and Suckley’s cuckoo bumble bee listed as ‘threatened’.
The Suckley’s cuckoo bumble bee is one of the six true cuckoo bumble bee species occurring in North America. Like cuckoo birds, it depends on the nests of other bees to lay their eggs. So, as other species such decline, it becomes increasingly difficult for the species to survive.
Ontario Nature has long advocated for species at risk in Ontario, including native pollinators. For instance, in 2017, we fought against the use of neonicotinoid pesticides which are toxic to bees and hinder their ability to reproduce.
How to Help Bumble Bees
Learn about the differences between native and non-native bee species
Plant native species
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Miranda was a Communications Intern with Ontario Nature in 2020. She holds a Master’s of environmental studies from York University and is an experienced environmental educator and public speaker who enjoys hiking, yoga, and tutoring French in her spare time.