Mail-Order Bees

One aspect of bumblebee research that had me entranced from the beginning is that you can order your experimental subjects by mail. Yup- by mail. No catching things in traps, no kidnapping nestlings, no quarantining and de-worming, no blended concoctions of worms and food pellets, no complex breeding charts... just a 1-800 number and a credit card.

The reason? Well it certainly isn't for the benefit of making scientists' lives easier. It is because bumblebees are economically important. These little pollinators are important agricultural workers, and they are particularly good in greenhouses. Those greenhouses where many of our tomatoes and other veggies are grown, all of which need to be pollinated.

A few weeks ago I got my first bees in. By mail. They come in plastic boxes packed into fetching yellow and white boxes, packed into standard cardboard boxes for shipping. The plastic boxes just won't work if you need to observe the colony and work with them conveniently, so the bees have to be moved.

How do you move bumblebees and a next from one container to another? Very, very carefully. First you get your new container ready. We had some new, stylish plexiglas colony boxes, so I used those. I added a substrate (the lab uses wooden cat litter) and got ready for bees. Since bees don't fly in the dark, and don't see under red light, that's the way to go. You set up a little bee red light district in a dark room and move the bees one by one. Its a bit tedious, but better slow than stung!

After everyone is moved, you can move the entire nest with the queen. Add food, make sure everything is covered, and voila! a new bumblebee home!


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