Wednesday, 15 May 2019

The battle to save the world's biggest bumblebee from extinction


In Chile the beloved native bee is venerated as carrying the spirit of the dead, but its numbers are dwindling as farmers use imported species infected with parasites to pollinate crops
Sat 4 May 2019 10.00 BSTLast modified on Thu 9 May 2019 15.03 BST
The first time José Montalava saw the world’s largest bumblebee he was six years old and visiting his grandfather’s house in rural Chile. “It was in the tomato patch, a huge, loud, fluffy orange thing buzzing around. I remember trying to grab it, but it kept getting away, although it looked too heavy to fly,” he recalls.
During Montalava’s childhood, these giant golden bumblebees (Bombus dahlbomii) – which can measure up to 40mm and have been dubbed “flying mice” – were a common sight in the town where he grew up in central Chile. “It’s such a striking, charismatic, colourful bumblebee that used to herald spring,” says the 36-year-old entomologist. “Now it’s totally disappeared from my hometown and many other areas.”
Montalava says he first became aware the bee was in trouble after he was asked to take part in a study on the potential impact on the native species of importing a European bumblebee.
“In 2003, we would see thousands of the native bumblebees in the gardens of the university just outside the capital, Santiago, where I worked. The flowers were covered with these big, fluffy orange bees.”

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