09 July 2021

First Weeks as a Bumblebee Conservationist

Written by: David Blake

Did you know that bumblebee colonies only survive one year? Additionally, bumblebees can also produce honey (just like honeybees) and they have only specific members that can sting you (males do not have stingers). These are just a few facts that I have learned about bumblebees in my first couple weeks working with Fish & Wildlife Services (FWS) in the Direct Fellowship Program (DFP). While I may still have a lot to learn about bumblebees, I already knew that bees are critical pollinators that contribute tremendously to the health of all kinds of ecosystems. Therefore, bee conservation is a topic that immediately interested me. I found out about the FWS DFP while completing my 3rd year as an undergraduate environmental science major at UCLA with a minor focus in conservation biology. So, when I was accepted to work with FWS, I was immediately overcome with excitement!

I’m currently a few weeks into the program and I have already been put through scenarios that I have never faced before. For one, I had to leave Los Angeles and journey up to Ashland, Oregon, which is a city that I had never even heard of, to live with people that I have never met. So, my social anxiety was on an especially high alert. Also, I’ve started working in the field which is completely new for me. Being in the field is just as invigorating as my scientific heroes have described it as being. A typical day thus far has been hiking to multiple research sites to collect bumblebee samples and recording habitat conditions (what vegetation is like, climate conditions, etc.). It has been extremely hot in the Pacfic Northwest and I’ve had to lug around tons of gear. However, despite any of those inconveniences, these first weeks have been the best working experience that I have ever had! Breathing in the fresh mountain air and letting my curiosity drive my actions has been an incredible feeling.

While surveying potentially suitable habitat for bumblebees is a main goal of our project, an additional goal is to try and locate a species of bumblebee that hasn’t been seen in over 10 years: Franklin’s bumblebee (Bombus franklini). The quest to find Franklin’s has the whole team excited with every specimen we catch. With every bee I examine, I am hopeful that I will see white spots on the last segments (or “tergal”) of its abdomen, which is a color trait that is specific to B. franklini. Will we find Franklin’s this year? It’s hard to say but, the anticipation is heavy in the group and I look forward to seeing what each field site has to deliver.

Agency: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Program: US Fish & Wildlife Service - DFP

Location: Yreka Fish and Wildlife Office

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