The Maine Bumble Bee Atlas Takes Flight by IFW wildlife biologist Beth Swartz

By Beth Swartz

IFW Wildlife Biologist

Bumble bees, with their bold yellow and black stripes, large furry bodies and relatively docile dispositions, are a familiar backyard insect to most people. The important role they play in our environment, however, often goes unrecognized. Bumble bees are an essential component of pollination for flowering plants throughout the Northern Hemisphere. They pollinate many of our spring and summer wildflowers, as well as a wide variety of other plants, including most garden flowers, fruits and vegetables. This ecosystem service is key to maintaining not only cultivated crops for human use, but also native plant communities which provide habitat for Maine’s diverse wildlife species.

Beginning in the late 1990s, significant declines in some North American bumble bee species were being detected. Several species, including four native to Maine, were once very common throughout their ranges but are now rarely observed. Various factors are believed to be contributing to these declines, including habitat loss and fragmentation, pesticides, and diseases and parasites introduced through widespread use of commercially raised bumble bees. These same declines have likely also occurred in Maine, but because we have so little information about our bumble bee fauna it is difficult to assess the status of the 17 species known to live here.

In order to document the diversity, distribution and abundance of all Maine’s bumble bee species, the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife (MDIFW) is initiating the Maine Bumble Bee Atlas (MBBA) project in May 2015. Designed as a multi-year statewide survey, the project is being coordinated by MDIFW in partnership with the University of Maine at Orono and Farmington. Closely modeled after MDIFW’s highly successful Maine Butterfly Survey (2007–2015) and Maine Damselfly and Dragonfly Survey (1999-2005), the Maine Bumble Bee Atlas will marshal the efforts of volunteer citizen scientists from across Maine to greatly increase our knowledge on the status of the state’s bumble bees.

bumble bee 2To recruit volunteers for the survey, MDIFW will sponsor free six-hour training workshops across the state during each year of the project. The first workshop will be held on Saturday, May 16th at the University of Maine in Orono. Participants do not need to have prior experience in surveying for bees – just an interest and willingness to learn and contribute data to the project. Project staff will give presentations on bumble bee behavior, ecology, conservation, and identification, and attendees will be trained in a standardized survey and data collection protocol. An instructional handbook and all of the equipment necessary to participate will be given to each volunteer. Workshop space is limited, open to adults only, and pre-registration is required. Lunch will be provided. For more information or to pre-register for the training workshop, contact the MDIFW Coordinator, Beth Swartz, at or 941-4476. Project details and information about the training workshop can also be found on the MBBA website ( and Facebook page (

The Maine Bumble Bee Atlas is funded in part by the Maine Outdoor Heritage Fund (MOHF), in which proceeds from the sale of a dedicated instant lottery ticket (currently “Gopher Gold”) are used to support outdoor recreation and natural resource conservation. For more information about MOHF, go to Additional support comes from a federal State Wildlife Grant award and contributions by Maine citizens to the Maine Endangered and Nongame Wildlife Fund (Chickadee Check-off, Loon License Plate).


Posted in Wildlife

One comment

  1. Keith Larson says:

    Saw the first bumble bee today. At least 2 inches long. It’s body was mostly black Common Eastern Bumble Bee – Bombus impatiens – Male?

Leave a Reply