BELLEVILLE, IL - In Belleville, Illinois, an unassuming flower garden has become the hub of global scientific interest thanks to a retired biochemist named Ned Siegel. The reason? Siegel's discovery of the elusive Lemon Cuckoo Bumble Bee (Bombus citrinus), a rare species that has not been spotted in Belleville before. This finding has implications for our understanding of pollination, conservation, and our environmental impact.
As a participant in Webster University’s 'Shutterbee' study, Siegel, like around 150 other volunteers in the St. Louis region, spent four years photographing bees in their natural environment. Utilizing the iNaturalist app, these 'citizen scientists' shared their findings with experts worldwide, contributing to the scientific discourse and enhancing our collective knowledge of these crucial pollinators.
Siegel’s snapshot of the Lemon Cuckoo Bumble Bee ignited excitement in the scientific community. "They were going back to Smithsonian record,” Siegel said. It had been a long while since the Lemon Cuckoo was last spotted, with a sighting in 1859 in Carlinville, Illinois, by a noted bee person. This new discovery generated a positive 'buzz' in the scientific community.
Nicole Miller-Struttmann, a biology professor at Webster University and manager of the bee study, was thrilled. “To see this in somebody’s backyard garden is even more exciting because we’re learning more and more about how we can support pollinators in just small patches.”
In a context of a global decline in pollinator populations, the Lemon Cuckoo's presence in Belleville provides a beacon of hope. This bee species, known for laying its eggs in the nests of pollinating bumblebees, is a testament to the resilience and strength of local bee populations.
Miller-Struttmann explains, “This means that bee populations are good enough in an area to support this rare, parasitic bee that is good for pollination.” This highlights the integral role that individual gardeners can play in supporting and influencing bee populations, particularly when choosing to cultivate native plant species in place of traditional sprawling lawns.
The resurgence of the Lemon Cuckoo Bumble Bee signifies more than a successful conservation story; it stands as a reminder of our interconnectedness with nature and the impact of our actions on the ecosystem. Miller-Struttmann emphasizes the global significance of this discovery, “If our bumblebee populations are high, that’s better for blueberries, tomatoes, peppers—the types of plants that really require those specialist pollinators… with climate change, we’re seeing shifts in species ranges, but for whatever reason, that species is holding on here, and that’s promising.”
The Lemon Cuckoo Bumble Bee sighting in Belleville holds promising insights into the state of local bee populations, the importance of individual gardening habits, and the role cities might play in supporting pollinators. The world, it seems, has taken note of a bee found in Belleville, making the quiet Illinois town a part of the global conversation on pollinator conservation and ecological wellbeing.