It’s sad that this has become a notable observation, but they’ve become so scarce that when I walked by the science building, which is surrounded by prairie grasses and flowers, I was surprised to see swarms of bumblebees everywhere. I had to take a picture.

I know it’s a bit blurry, but just think of it as like a photo of bigfoot or the Loch Ness monster — those are always out of focus, so I’m adding verisimilitude. Otherwise, when I’m dandling a grandchild on my knee 50 years from now, showing them this strange extinct insect on a strange extinct flower, they won’t believe me.


  1. octopod says

    Prairie restoration works, man! You let some wildflowers take over a patch of the urban/suburban lawn monoculture and immediately the bees come roaring back. We’ve got at least three kinds in our downtown front yard, not even counting wasps and hoverflies.

  2. Johnny Vector says

    We have lots of bees around our house, an area that’s somewhere between suburban and wooded rural. We seem to have a group of very honeybee-looking ones that make a home under our back porch every spring. Doesn’t seem to be a genuine hive, because we don’t see them in summer, so I’m not sure what that really means. Lots of bumblebees and carpenter bees too.

  3. rietpluim says

    The declining number of bees, bumble bees, hover flies, and insects in general is a great concern. I’m proud to say our garden is very insect friendly (our whole town is quite insect friendly really) but it’s not enough.

  4. johnniefurious says

    I’m impressed. I’m 41 and can’t dandle a grandchild on my knee -now-, much less 50 years from now.

    Incidentally, does anyone know a safe way to get bees to move out of an area without having to kill them? We had a couple bumbles under the steps, turns out they weren’t residents, but I’d hate to have some little kid get stung coming to ask my son to play.

  5. anchor says

    I haven’t seen a single monarch butterfly since August 17 of last year.

    It was the ONLY one I saw ALL last year.

    Before that I saw only a few each year over the previous 4 years.

    I’ve seen only one other butterfly of any species this year (a tiger swallowtail).

    Dear kids of the future: there was once a time when butterflies were very common…a single glance across a field contained a countless myriad.

    I wish I could apologize to you.

  6. anchor says

    @6: Are you sure they’re bumblebees? Bumbles aren’t particularly aggressive and aren’t easily riled into attacking. Now, wasps or hornets and the like are something else…

  7. archangelospumoni says

    Become a beekeeper. Go to the local club and attend a meeting. Read a couple of books. Get started now!

  8. bachfiend says

    Bees are almost my favourite animal. Whenever I travel, I make certain to take at least one photo of a bee or bees. I visited Pisa in 2015, and I took almost as many photos of a bee swarm as I did of the Leaning Tower.

    The secret to taking photos of bees with an iPod or iPhone (with their inferior focussing) is to take as many exposures as possible and one or two will, by accident, be in focus.

    Last summer I took many shots of a jewel spider (an absolutely exquisite spider) on its orb web, and managed to get just one good shot – and most spiders are easier to photograph than bees since they’re mostly motionless, unless you get too close and alarm them.

  9. MattP (must mock his crappy brain) says

    I see carpenter bees everyday because they have been infesting the house for years. Also plenty of yellow jackets and assorted wasps, but ,surprisingly, they have not tried to sting me in quite a while. Honey bees are a rare sight in part because there has been very little clover in the yard the last several years; a few spots of unkempt bermuda grass, but mostly just crabgrass and weeds that do not require much/any external pollination. Have a biggish milkweed that was coated with carpenter bees and several butterflies earlier today, but no hummingbird moths so far this year. There is a large hill in the backyard formerly hosting a hellish amount of privet and a few dead trees that had to be taken down, so it was covered with a batch of milkweed and joe pye weed that should really start to grow in next year.

  10. magistramarla says

    The tree trimmers disrupted a hornet’s nest today, and I was unlucky enough to be stung. I’m not a happy camper this evening.
    PZ – I certainly hope that you dandle that grandchild much sooner than 50 years from now!
    I’m your age, and the oldest of my six grandchildren just turned 18 and graduated from high school – I can’t believe I’m old enough for that!

  11. Johnny Vector says

    There are vasty numbers of carpenter bees living in the arbors and trellises at the Bonsai Garden at the National Arboretum. Along with lots of signs pointing out that nearly all the ones you see buzzing around are males, which have no stinger. The females mostly hang out inside the nests, are very docile, and only sting if provoked.

    They do damage the wood structures, but rather than try to remove the bees, or switch to treated wood, the arboretum simply replaces the wood every few years.

  12. says

    @anchor, #7

    I planted milkweed in my garden specifically FOR Monarch’s. Probably 50-75 large plants growing this year and I’ve seen two. And have yet to see an actual caterpillar or signs of them feeding.

  13. anchor says

    @drksky #15 – Excellent! I’ve raised Monarchs off and on since I was a kid in the late ’60s. Alas, life events of late have curtailed what I can do. Not being able to find any stands of milkweed in the area I’ve moved to sure hasn’t help. They used to sprout copiously in dense thickets around here. Now, nothing. Of course, the damned herbicide-pesticide (e.g., poison) culture is the culprit. Dwindling butterflies, bees, and other wonderful flying insects. I also note that insectivore birds are seriously stressed and falling in number by the dearth of their sustenance. The future looks mighty bleak – a true eco-collapse is under way, and it doesn’t look minor or transient. I’m glad you’re planting! May your caterpillars grow big and strong to the day they take wing!

  14. magistramarla says

    My best friend has a beautiful butterfly garden (South Texas) and her back yard was inundated by butterflies last fall and again this spring. She did see a few Monarchs. She thinks that San Antonio might be on the migratory route for those that winter in Mexico. Her back yard is also popular with hummingbirds. Her patio is a lovely place to sip wine and bird watch.
    Pacific Grove. Ca. has a Monarch sanctuary for those who winter in California. We’ll be out there in September, so I’ll check on how they are doing there.

  15. VolcanoMan says

    Ugh, bees. I got stung by a bumblebee who had hitched a ride on my shirt (unbeknownst to me, of course) a couple weeks ago as I was riding the bus. And I guess the bugger didn’t get a good stick in the first time he got me (in the stomach) because his stinger didn’t detach, and he got me a second time (in the arm) before falling to the ground and dying. Fucker.

    I don’t know what it is about me, it’s not like I flail around and provoke stinging hymenoptera whenever I see them, but despite this, I bet I’ve been stung 30-40 times in my life (which works out to about once a year). I’ve been stung by bumblebees, honeybees, hornets, wasps, but the most frequent by far are those german yellow jackets. Hell, one of them even BIT me once (which almost hurt more than a sting – you don’t swell up, but there’s a massive chunk taken out of your flesh).