Bumble bees (genus Bombus) are some of the most recognizable and charismatic insects around Madison. However, while industrious worker bees are a familiar sight on spring flowers, little is known about the nests they return to at the end of every day. This is because many bumble bees nest below ground, where their lives unfold entirely out of sight from curious ecologists. As understanding bumble bee nesting behavior is key to developing effective pollinator protection plans, I am investigating the nesting preferences of local bumble bees this spring and summer. Within large hoop houses at UW-Madison’s Arlington Agricultural Research Station, spring bumble bee queens will be allowed to choose from an array of possible nests, and I will monitor their choices throughout May and June. My aims are to identify whether queen bumble bees prefer to nest in burrows previously occupied by other bees, and to create a working protocol for researchers to use towards their own bumble bee nesting questions in the future.
In an effort to use as many reclaimed materials as possible, I am constructing 200 nest boxes out of used plastic milk cartons. Community members all over Madison have responded to the call, and my back porch is swimming in cartons! Over the next few weeks I'll be racing the clock to cut ventilation windows and stuff each box with straw bedding and kapok insulation. Lots of work to do before the first queen bees come out of hibernation...