19 Aug 2016

Using bumblebees as pollinators

From Country Life, 9:38 pm on 19 August 2016

Scientist Dr David Pattemore is investigating the living habits of bumblebees so they can be used to help honey bees pollinate commercial horticultural crops.

Bumblebee wearing a radio transmitter for tracking

Bumblebee wearing a radio transmitter for tracking Photo: Plant and Food Research

Super-gluing a tiny radio transmitter to a bumblebee is all part of a busy day's work for Plant and Food pollination scientists in Hamilton.

Dr David Pattemore and his team have been doing this slightly unusual task for a few years in order to track bumblebees as they fly off to set up their underground bunker and start developing a colony.

Unlike honey bees which winter-over, bumblebee queens set up new colonies each spring and finding exactly where they nest is virtually impossible with the naked eye.

Dr Pattemore says they want to learn more about bumblebee nesting habits because then they can design cost-effective nesting boxes which could be put into kiwifruit and avocado orchards to help supplement the pollination work of  honey bees.

Honey bee hives are becoming more expensive for orchardists to use now that manuka honey is in high demand and there is always the risk that a new pest or disease could wipe them out.

As well as using radio transmitters to locate queen bees, Dr Pattemore has a Hungarian Hunting Hound, Ollie, which sniffs them out in spring.

Bumblebee hunting dog Ollie

Bumblebee hunting dog Ollie Photo: Plant and Food Research