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Get the buzz on vital native bumblebees, problems they face

DANIEL CLIFTON • PICAYUNE EDITOR

On Jan.  9, Mike Warriner of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Depatment is giving a program on native bumblebees during the Kingsland Garden Club meeting at the Kingsland Public Library, 125 W. Polk St. in Kingsland. The public is invited. Photo courtesy of Sheryl Yantis

On Jan. 9, Mike Warriner of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Depatment is giving a program on native bumblebees during the Kingsland Garden Club meeting at the Kingsland Public Library, 125 W. Polk St. in Kingsland. The public is invited. Photo courtesy of Sheryl Yantis

KINGSLAND — The European honeybee gets a lot of credit as a pollinator, but one can’t overlook the importance of native bumblebees in this critical role.

Though honeybees are more manageable — thus the ability to raise them in hives — native bumblebees, including the nine species found in Texas, keep vegetables growing and wildflowers blooming.

But like honeybees, native bumblebees are facing a population decline.

On Jan. 9, Mike Warriner, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department researcher charged with keeping tabs on native bumblebees, will share the story of these incredible pollinators during a Kingsland Garden Club meeting. The program is 1:30 p.m. at the Kingsland Branch Library, 125 W. Polk St. A club meeting is at 1 p.m. The public is invited to both.

Warriner first became a native bumblebee aficionado and advocate in 2005 while working with the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission. In 2009, he joined the TPWD as an invertebrate biologist. Warriner discovered that the last comprehensive Texas study conducted on native bees happened in 1913, more than 100 years ago.

Now, as the TPWD nongame and rare species program leader, Warriner wants to learn more about the health and population of native Texas bumblebees. He’s even started a website (www.texasbumblebees.com) dedicated them.

“I’ve heard his program before, and it is very interesting,” said Robert Yantis, a member of the Kingsland Garden Club. “He’s a very good speaker, and Michael’s love and passion for these bees really comes out in the program.”

Researchers across the country have noted the decline in populations for both non-native European honeybees and native bumblebees.

Part of Warriner’s goal is to spread information about Texas species through the creation of a watch system comprised of citizen scientists, or “bumble-watchers.” Participation in the watch can be as simple as seeing a bee, photographing it, noting the date and location of the sighting and submitting the information online to the Texas Bumblebees website.

During the Jan. 9 program, Warriner will explain the importance of these native species. While European honeybees offer agriculture producers a “manageable” way to pollinate plants (and make honey), the native species also provide a great service to farmers, gardeners and just about anybody else who enjoys the benefits of plant life (that means pretty much everybody.)

According to the paper “Conserving Bumble Bees” by the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, bees pollinate more than two-thirds of the world’s farm crops with the remaining one-third, such as corn, wheat and rice, being pollinated by the wind. And bumblebees, in particular, play a big roll in pollinating blueberries, cranberries and clover as well as greenhouse tomatoes and peppers. Bumblebees use “buzz pollination,” which they do by vibrating the plant and causing pollen to break loose. Many plants benefit from this form of pollination.

But with growing concern over the decline of these species, scientists are trying to find ways to conserve the bees.

“It’s something we all need to be aware of,” Yantis added.

A good way to learn more about native Texas bumblebees and what you can do to help them is by attending Warriner’s program at the Kingsland Public Library. Call (325) 388-8849 for more information.

daniel@thepicayune.com

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