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Insects - Bumblebees

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Bumblebees are a bee in the genus Bombus, in the Apidae family. They live mostly in areas with high altitudes in the northern hemisphere, but there are a few species in South America, and though not native to the area, some species are now found in New Zealand and Tasmania. There are over 250 known species of bumblebees. They are different from honeybees in that they have rounder bodies and are covered with fuzzy looking hair called pile. Like many kinds of bees, bumblebees have black and either yellow, red, or white stripes.

Bumblebees are social insects and live together in colonies with one queen, much like honeybees, but their colonies are much smaller and usually only consist of about 50 to 400 bees, depending on the species. This is quite small compared to honey bees which can have a hive of thousands of bees. Bumblebees do gather pollen in pollen sacs on their legs and make honey like honeybees do, but they do not save very much honey in their nests – only enough to feed their young. Bumblebees don’t need to store a lot of honey because they do not live through the winter. At the most, a bumblebee nest will only have a few teaspoons of honey.

The only bumblebees that hibernate through the winter are newly mated queens. Once the winter is over, the new queens wake up and go to find a place to start a nest. The bumblebee’s nest is small – at the largest, it can be up to twelve inches in diameter or it can be as small as a softball. Even though bumblebee colonies are small in comparison to honeybees, they make up a large percentage of the world’s pollinators. Bumblebees pollinate an estimated ninety percent of the world’s wildflowers, and thirty percent of the world’s food crops are pollinated by bees, a large part of which are bumblebees. Most species of bumblebees are central place foragers and prefer to forage within a 5 mile radius of their nest, so they build their nests in places that have plenty of flowers nearby. They prefer small dark spaces like abandoned rodent burrows, or clumps of dry grass or leaves down under thick bushes, or under old buildings.

Once the queen finds a suitable location for her nest, she makes a nectar pot and then lays her eggs ons ball of pollen nearby. This way she can reach the pot of nectar as she cares for her young. She then covers her eggs in a ball of wax, which she secretes from glands in her abdomen and broods them, staying on top of them much the same as a bird would do to keep them warm. She continues to add wax to the ball until the larvae are ready to emerge. After about four days, the eggs hatch, and the larvae then start eating their way out of the ball of wax. Like ants, the queen selectively fertilizes some of the eggs and fertilized eggs grow into females and unfertilized eggs grow into males. Some females are fed a special diet high in pollen, and these later become queens.

Because bumblebees only live for one season, they do not store a large amount of honey in their nest. They only store enough to feed their queen and the larvae and to sustain them through the colder days, which is usually only a few teaspoons. Like other types of bees, bumblebees live together in colonies with a queen, drones, and workers that each have a specific role to play in their community to help the colony thrive. The only bumblebees that live through the winter are the newly mated queens, who hibernate until spring and then find a place to build a new nest so that they can continue the lifecycle. Bumblebees are not hatched with the knowledge of how to forage. They must learn how to get nectar and pollen from every new kind of flower that they encounter, but once they have learned how to get food from a particular type of flower, they can easily forage without having to re-learn.

If a bumblebee cannot get inside a flower, it will ‘rob’ the nectar by biting a hole in the base of the flower and take the nectar without pollinating the flower. Bumblebees can only see color in the range of ultraviolet, blue, and green, so they tend to prefer flowers that are violet or blue in color, but they will also visit flowers of other colors. This is largely in part that even though they cannot see the colors as well, they can smell the sweetness of the nectar, which they are drawn to. Once it finds a good source of nectar and pollen, the bumblebee will return to the nest and tell the other worker bees by doing a special dance to let the other bees know about their find. The worker bees that are not busy will then go out and find the source of pollen by matching its smell to the pollen that the bee doing the dance had brought in to the nest. Bumblebees generally stay close to their nest when foraging, and usually stay within a five mile radius of their nest.

1. Creativity

When a bumblebee can’t find a way in to get the nectar from a flower, instead of giving up, it will find another way to get it, even if it means biting a hole in the bottom of the flower. To some this may seem a little like cheating, but in this case, the bumblebee is not only getting the nectar, but it is also creating a place where other insects can get nectar from a flower that they weren’t able to get any from before. Finding ways to make things simpler is not ‘cheating,’ especially if it benefits others who follow. Often other insects, including other species of bees, will use the holes that bumblebees created to get nectar from a flower after the bumblebee has gone. With bumblebees, this creative approach to gathering nectar gives them the advantage of getting to the nectar first, but it also creates a way for other insects to get something where they may not have been able to get anything at all. Often in business, it is easy to feel that a new creative approach might give someone an unfair advantage, but if that approach benefits its creator and opens new doors for others down the road, how can it be a bad thing? Instead of giving up and focusing on how someone’s idea has made business harder, it is better to focus on the abundance of resources available, and find a new creative approach to access them that no one else has thought of before.

2. Keep things simple

Bumblebees like to keep life simple. They have smaller nests and colonies, they store only enough to take care of their needs, and they reuse their resources. A bumblebee nest will usually only contain a few teaspoons of honey at any given time, because that is all they need to survive. Bumblebees also carry unused debris out of the nest or they reuse it. Spent cocoons are reused by lining them with wax and turning them into honey pots. It is easy to over complicate things in business. People tend to take on too many projects at once, and then get disorganized and not use their resources efficiently. If things are simplified to cover only what is needed, there is less to keep track of, which can make it easier to stay organized. Reusing resources and not storing extra stuff that can turn into clutter is one way to keep things simple. It is easy to try to save too much ‘stuff’ thinking that we will find a use for it later, and then when it is all packed away into a storage space, it gets forgotten about. Sometimes forgotten items are even replaced until there are multiples of the same items cluttering up our storage space. If an item isn’t being used, it is better to get rid of it by donating it to someone who will use it. There is nothing wrong with storing a few things that are going to be used regularly, as long as they are organized in a way that makes them easy to find when they are needed.

3. Learn to do things you don’t like

If bumblebees had their way, they would likely only fuss with blue or purple flowers. They wouldn’t fuss with daisies or daffodils. But when presented with a whole field of daisies with no clover to be found anywhere, bumblebees still have to eat, and their work is pollinating. As much as they would prefer to pollinate only blue or purple flowers, there are fields of yellow, white, and red flowers that need to be taken care of too. In business, things are much the same. A business person may enjoy the creative tasks, but not the administrative tasks like book keeping. In a business, there are many different kinds of tasks that need to be done and there is not always someone to delegate those tasks to. It is nice to be able to delegate the less enjoyable tasks to someone who might even be better suited to do them, but there isn’t always someone there to take care of those tasks when they need to be done. Because of this, many small business owners find themselves wearing many different hats. If a business person can learn to take on some of the things that he does not as enjoy as much, in the long run, he will be much more successful, and capable of taking care of things while his employees are not there if needed.

4. If it smells like a rose . . .

Bumblebees rely heavily on their sense of smell to find nectar and pollen. The bumblebee’s antennae allow it to tell if a smell is something good or something to stay away from. Good business people often seem to have a sense for what is a good business opportunity and what isn’t, but what often seems like pure intuition is often more of a highly developed skill for spotting the traits of a good opportunity. Being able to use those business ‘antennae’ to spot a good opportunity is not left up to chance, but often involves careful observation and good decision making skills. A bumblebee’s antennae are able to absorb tiny molecules that carry the scent of the item they are evaluating. Based on the smell, they know if they should proceed, or if they should back away. Being able to quickly spot a good opportunity can be the difference between success and failure. Instead of smell, a good business person will recognize traits like how an idea or opportunity might appeal to a particular market, how that idea could be reproduced and marketed in a way that is economical, and how it could be distributed effectively.

5. Collaborate

Bumblebees work together to find the best sources of pollen and nectar. By working together, the whole group is more successful as a colony, because they find sources of food and then direct their fellow workers to them rather than trying to harvest and entire field of clover alone. Often the best ideas come from groups. Even individuals who think of great ideas often find that their ideas have their roots in inspiration from multiple sources. This is why large corporations often assign a team of employees to one project, and ask them to work together. When there is a group of people that can bounce ideas off of each other, one mediocre idea will inspire another better idea, until a great idea grows out of the original idea. Collaboration allows the team to build on that original idea, or throw it out and start over with a new one, until the group is able to find that really great idea that will work even better than anything they might have come up with individually. One individual may constrain his ideas to things that he knows that can be accomplished using only the skills and resources that he has access to. Collaboration expands the possibilities to include other people with access to different resources and skills.

6. Celebrate success

When a bumblebee has found a particularly good source of food, they return to the nest and dance as a way to communicate to the other worker bees, inviting others to join with them in bringing the newly found food to the nest. Nature could have allowed bumblebees to adapt by simply sending out pheromones, or to use some other means of communication to let their co-workers know about their find, but it didn’t. The bees dance. There are many ways to communicate, but too often we forget to find and express joy in our work and to celebrate the successes that life brings our way. Life should be a joyful experience. There are too many things in life that will inevitably bring us down, and so if there is something in life that you experience – a great idea, a prime opportunity, or a particularly successful year – don’t leave it uncelebrated, even if it is just a little happy dance. A celebration of success doesn’t have to be a huge spectacular event. It can be just a private moment where you simply acknowledge that success and let yourself feel good about it, but like a bumblebee, the best celebrations are shared with those closest to you; the people who you love, who you live with, and who you work with every day.