Did you know that tomatoes are primarily pollinated by bumblebees?

Bumblebees are better than honeybees at pollinating certain crops due to their higher buzz vibration and longer tongue length which makes them excellent at pollinating crops like tomatoes, blueberries, kiwifruit, and passionfruit. Tomatoes have pollen lodged inside a tube within the flower and the strong vibration of the large bumblebee body allows the pollen to become dislodged and rain down on them.

Their Origin

Like honeybees, bumblebees are not native to New Zealand. Four species of bumblebees were introduced to NZ from England between 1876 and 1885 to pollinate red clover, allowing it to reseed naturally in pastures to feed dairy cows. Tragically, two of the four species that have established and thrived in NZ are now endangered or extinct in England due to loss of habitat and industrialization of food production. The four species found in NZ are the buff-tailed bumblebee, the garden bumblebee, the ruderal bumblebee, and the short-haired bumblebee.

The power pollinator

Incredibly, one bumblebee can pollinate up to 450 flowers per hour! They can carry up to 90% of their body weight in food and the level of activity required to fly is so great they are only ever 40 minutes away from starvation. They can reach ground speeds up to 54 kms per hour and have an excellent ability to thermoregulate allowing them to stay warm in very cool temperatures and cool in warmer weather.

Living Arrangements

Bumblebees are social insects and can live in nests of up to 400 bees. Each nest has one queen that hibernates over winter and will last for only one year. In early spring the queen will emerge from her winter of hibernating to start a new nest and the first activity she has to do is to build up her energy reserves by finding a good source of nectar and pollen before laying her first batch of eggs. This is exactly why early flowering trees are such an important part of pollinator health, they provide that critical source of food to hungry bees at a time when all their winter stores have been used up.

Bumblebees stand as remarkable and vital creatures within the intricate tapestry of our natural world. Their role as efficient pollinators not only contributes to the diversity and abundance of plant life but also plays a critical part in supporting global food systems and ecosystems. Recognising this encourages a shared responsibility to protect and conserve these humble yet extraordinary creatures.


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