Return of the Living Bumblebee
The short-haired bumblebee has been extinct in the UK since 2000, making it one of two bumblebee species to have died out in the last 70 years. Many bee species have faced challenges surviving due to changes in natural habitat and the ravages of parasites and disease.
Lucky for the short-hairs, there is a living relative. Short-haired bumblebees were exported to New Zealand in the late 1800s so they could pollinate the red clover used in sheep pastures. According to the Economist, "In December 1884, 282 bumblebee queens left London for Wellington on the 'Tongariro', one of the first steamships with a refrigeration unit,in which they could safely hibernate. Forty-eight survived the journey, and their offspring are flourishing on South Island today."
This fall the Bumblebee Conservation Trust will visit Mackenzie Country in New Zealand to collect queen short-hairs in hopes of returning their progeny to their eagerly awaiting homeland in Kent. After months of difficult colonizing efforts in captivity, the scientists aim to reintroduce the bumblebees to their new habitat as early as next spring.
Image: "uber furry bumblebee" by dcysurfer on Flickr, courtesy of Creative Commons.