Ever since the flooding of the basement and the following weeks we've been noticing a distinct absence of the bumblebees who make our garden their home. We thought it odd from the beginning but wondered if maybe, due to the rainy weather, they were just laying low for a while. Now, given the string of mostly sunny, dry days we've had in the last week, we've been watching for them to reappear. And they haven't. Though the main gardens aren't as floriferous as they will be later this month and into July, there's still quite a bit they usually work on ... Nope, not a trace. Well, we concluded tonight that our bumblebees have disappeared, and are probably dead at this point.
There's a story in this, and a theory as to why they disappeared, so bear with me.
Back in spring of 2000 when Fernymoss planted our first two hollies in the Woodland Garden, he planted the first, and kept hitting something rocky the deeper he dug, but fortunately he ended up planting it up higher. When he went to plant the second a short distance away, he again encountered a stubborn rocky area, but this time it was buzzing angrily! He quickly concluded there was a bee hive down there and started filling back in, then planted the holly anyway. Over the years, the hollies have thrived and grown, no matter what was down there.
We talked to a few people about what he could have encountered and a good number said that with a lot of the older houses in the neighborhood (ours is 107 yrs old this year), there used to be cisterns in the yard, and the location where he found the buzzing could well be a long buried cistern. That made sense to us, given some of the truly odd things we've dug up from the yard over the years (a phenomenon I've also heard is quite common from folks in the neighborhood). So, cistern or not, one thing was certain: there was a bumblebee hive down there.
That was good news to us! I've always admired bumblebees for their incredible work ethic, and their clumsy, but generally friendly demeanor to meddling humans who get in the way of their duties. And they're probably (just short of Sphinx Moths) my favorite insect to photograph (as regular readers here already know). We've really enjoyed having them around (though sometimes they can get inconvenient when we want to weed) all these years, and now we face either an extinction or a greatly reduced population in the garden. And that is a very sobering and sad thought. They were some of our best friends in the insect kingdom, and we're going to really miss them if what we think happened is truly the case.
Here's how we theorize what happened. If (as we suspected) they were living in an old cistern down there, given the events of the early morning hours of June 6 (when we had over 4 and a half inches of rain in 2 hours), which led to the storm drain overload and the flooding of our basement with a foot of water, they simply drowned. In their time of rest, no less. That's a truly heartbreaking thought, but unless they miraculously reappear soon, we'll have to just assume that their hive was wiped out that night, and with the subsequent substantial rains we got in the following days.
If so, it's a cruel irony that the very place they had safely inhabited for years may have well become their tomb. We're going to miss them, greatly. We've depended on them for nearly ten years as our garden buddies who take on a good number of the pollination duties around here, and without them, I wonder what the long term results will be. Our gardens are very bee, butterfly and other beneficial insects friendly, and a disruption in the delicate balance of the ecosystem we've helped to maintain concerns us seriously. Without one of the most stalwart and reliable insects, such as the bumblebee, we may experience some serious, unforeseen consequences.
Much has been made (and rightly so!) of the catastrophic losses of homes and businesses and general damage during the 'Flood of '08,' but I wonder if similar insect disappearance events are happening elsewhere around the state. Are we just beginning to witness the gradual (or sudden?) disappearance of native species as well? I don't mean to sound preachy, but humans weren't the only ones affected by the truly catastrophic weather patterns we've been experiencing recently. All kingdoms, flora and fauna as well as humans have been affected. And I think the other species deserve some recognition of their losses, if that is truly the situation in which we now find ourselves.
Editorial note: Nothing would make me happier than to have to 'retract' this post if/when the bees make a reappearance in the garden. But I observed an ominous detail today when I noticed that the Bee Balm has started to bloom, and it was more than curiously devoid of insect activity. That's not a good sign, as it is one of the favorites of the bumblebees (and hummingbirds). If the bees don't reappear by the time the Purple Coneflowers bloom (which will be happening soon), we'll know for sure. I really hope I'm pleasantly surprised and relieved to see that happen ....