Each spring, as the snow begins to melt and warm weather approaches, young bumble bee queens emerge, one by one, from underground burrows. They’ve waited out the winter in these burrows. These queens likely haven’t eaten since fall, so they quickly begin searching for their next meal. In Yosemite, like in much of the western United States, spring queens feed primarily on the pollen and nectar from manzanita flowers. Manzanita is one of the earliest and most abundant flowering plants in the region. It is at large stands of manzanita in early May of 2019 that my field assistants, Claire and Charlie, and I searched for queens of the yellow-faced bumble bee, Bombus vosnesenskii.
Queens only forage early in the season. Once they successfully rear their first set of offspring to adults, those daughters (they’re all female at this point in the colony!) will take over the foraging and brood care responsibilities so that the queen can focus on laying more eggs and growing the colony. In the early nesting stage, the queen is the sole forager, and the actions she takes can make or break the success of her colony. Partly because the queens only forage for a short time, we know very little about what they forage on, when they forage, how frequently and for how long they forage, and how they make these foraging-related decisions. With future research, I plan to further investigate queen foraging behavior to better understand how queens make these decisions, and how these actions impact colony development and success. See you next field season, queens!