While much of North America has had cold and snow, here it was warm enough that some local bumble bees were collecting pollen and nectar from desert mallow flowers. Unfortunately the bees were landing and leaving so fast that I wasn't able to get a photograph, so this one from the East Coast will have to do.
What can you do while it is too cold to do much insect watching? It is a perfect time to pull out the field guides and learn more about a group that is interesting to you.
Bumble Bee Identification
Take for example the bumble bees. They are important pollinators and easy to spot because of their large size.
If you are interested in learning more about the different types of bumble bees in your area, the USDA Forest Service and The Pollinator Partnership recently have created two identification guides for bumble bees: Bumble Bees of the Eastern United States by Sheila Colla, Leif Richardson and Paul Williams and Bumble Bees of the Western United States by Jonathan Koch, James Strange and Paul Williams
The two guides can be downloaded as free .pdfs at The Xerces Society (scroll to bottom of page).
(There are free downloadable bumble bee posters at the USDA Forest Service, too -scroll down.)
Looking through the Bumble Bees of the Eastern United States guide, I believe the bumble bee above on the thistle flower is Bombus impatiens, the common eastern bumble bee.
Ready to take your studies to a new level? Try a citizen science project.
Bumble Bee Citizen Science Opportunities
1. Bumble Bee Watch Citizen Science
This group is looking for individuals interested in taking photographs of their local bumble bees and uploading the photographs to the Bumble Bee Watch website. Once you have uploaded your photos, experts will verify the identity the bumble bees for you. The website also has tips for what you can do to help conserve bumble bees, like grow a pollinator garden.
2. Bumble Boosters
Based at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, this project involves testing designs for artificial bumble bee nest boxes and also tracking bumble bee queens, again via photographs.
If you decide to participate in one of these projects, or if you know of other bumble bee citizen science projects, be sure to let us know!