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Bumblebee may be huckleberry pickers’ best friend

NATURE -- Pollinators like bees and butterflies have a direct link to feeding the world.

But it's the humble bumblebee that does a lion's share of the work, buzzing alone in the mountains, to spread the wealth of Northwest's prized huckleberry crop.

"Sure, honeybees get the glory and we get their honey, but wild bees (about 150 different species probably occupy northeastern Washington), including bumble bees, pollinate far more crops, including many of those in our gardens, than the honeybee," says Chris Loggers, wildlife biologist with the Colville National Forest.

"For example, honeybees rarely pollinate that wonderful fruit that most of us pick each year -- huckleberries. It appears that bumblebees might be one of huckleberries’ prime pollinators."

Unfortunately, bumblebees appear to be declining, and researchers are trying to keep track of them.

"In northeastern Washington, the Western bumblebee (Bombus occidentalis), once the most widespread of Western bumblebees, had until two years ago not been documented in nearly a decade," Loggers said. "Last year we picked up more than a dozen new sightings.  Oddly, several other species of bumble bees here seem to be doing fine."

Citizen scientists can help researchers in two ways.

1. If you see a Western bumblebee, take a photo and email it to Loggers at 

Include date and location. "Coordinates from Google Earth are fantastic," he said. "You can also just email a Google Earth placemark."

  • "Lots of cameras now can take good closeup images, even many cell phones, and bumblebees are pretty docile compared to bees and wasps: they aren’t quick to flight and sting."

2. If you see a dead bumblebee, put it in a plastic bag, store in the freezer, and get it to Loggers at forest headquartrs in Colville somehow so it can be entered in a bumblebee genetics project.

Loggers is especially interested in white-butted bumblebees.

"Female Western bumble bees are fairly easy to identify: they’re the only ones in this area wit a white butt," he said, noting that subspecies can have differences in black and yellow markings, but the white butt is a key.


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Outdoors blog

Rich Landers writes and photographs stories and columns for a wide range of outdoors coverage, including Outdoors feature sections on Sunday and Thursday.