Happ-bee New Year

01 January 2010

It may not be a happy New Year for the great yellow bumblebee, which is the first species featured in the Natural History Museum's new Species of the day, launched today.

This insect is under threat in the UK due to habitat changes, and is one of the 365 species to be highlighted throughout the year as the Museum celebrates the UN's 2010 International Year of Biodiversity.

Biodiversity is the variety of life on Earth including their habitats. Species of the day will showcase just a tiny proportion of this biodiversity using the Museum’s unique collections, research and scientists.

From algae and bacteria, to whales and marsupials, each species is chosen and written about by a Museum scientist. A different species' fact file will be published to the website and highlighted on the homepage each day. 

Museum expertise

The Museum is in a unique position, with more than 300 scientists working on scientific research and looking after specimen collections that cover virtually all groups of animals, plants, minerals and fossils on Earth.

Species of the Day will give a glimpse into how important the Museum diverse collections are and how studying this biodiversity helps scientists build knowledge in many important areas.

Whether it is getting a greater understanding of the natural world, its biodiversity, habitat loss, climate change and identifying endangered species. Or, developing advances in science, from disease control, to insect forensic criminal investigations.

As well as the topics above, the fact files will include information about habitats, biology, behaviour, conservation, taxonomy (the naming and classifying of species) and more, as well as images and videos. A variety of themes, from collecting specimens and invasive species to economic impacts and biological control, will be explored.

Choosing a species

More than 100 scientists chose a species they thought was important or interesting. Bumblebee expert Paul Williams explains his choice that appears today. ‘The great yellow bumblebee is one of our most striking species and one that has shown a very dramatic decline in Britain, highlighting the plight of bumblebees as important pollinators.’

Great yellow bumblebee

Easy to spot in Britain, the great yellow bumblebee, Bombus distinguendus, is large with predominantly bright yellow body hair and a black band between the bases of its wings. It has a long tongue and feeds from, and pollinates, deep flowers like red clover.

Scottish machair grassland is one of the few habitats in Britain where the great yellow bumblebee is

Scottish machair grassland is one of the few habitats in Britain where the great yellow bumblebee is still found.

It was once widely scattered around the UK but now is found only in parts of northern Scotland. Its decline is mainly due to loss of flower-rich grassland habitat.

The great yellow bumblebee is included in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan, which tries to protect and conserve threatened species. It is a good species to monitor, known as a flagship species, because it is large and charismatic and can be used to raise public awareness of the need for conservation.

Important pollinators

Bees pollinate many plants and are extremely important pollinators of commercial crops such as cucumbers and coffee. They account for 85% of the value of all insect pollinated crop plants in Europe, making the threat of extinction of some bumblebees worldwide all the more worrying.

Helping bumblebees

Bumblebees need a range of different flowers for nectar and pollen so you can help them by planting a variety of native wildflowers like knapweed and clovers and flowering herbs such as sage and chives in your garden. Avoid highly cultivated or double flower varieties as they produce little pollen or nectar.

You can encourage bumblebees to nest in your garden by leaving an untidy, undisturbed corner, and remember if you are growing vegetables, many require bumblebees to pollinate them.

Williams concludes, ‘Species of the day is a great opportunity for people to find out about what we can do to help valuable species that are facing challenges from man-made environmental change’.

  • by Yvonne Da Silva
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