The Gypsy Cuckoo Bumble Bee is a medium-sized bee of about 12-18 mm in length. Both males and females have a black head and black and yellow striped body that is mostly black and ends in white or pale yellow. Unlike most bees, they do not have “pollen baskets” on their hind legs since they are a parasite bee that takes over existing colonies from other bee species.
The Gypsy Cuckoo Bumble Bee forages for pollen and nectar on a wide variety of native and non-native plant species. Since they are a parasitic bee, they also take pollen and nectar from other bee colonies like the Yellow-banded Bumble Bee and the Rusty-patched Bumble Bee.
Biology and Behaviour:
The Gypsy Cuckoo Bumble Bee is a parasite of Rusty-patched and Yellow-banded Bumble Bees. In the spring, a female Gypsy Cuckoo Bumble Bee takes over a nest by killing or forcing the host queen out. The worker bees of the host colony then feed and take care of the Gypsy Cuckoo Bumble Bee female and her young through chemical cues. Gypsy Cuckoo Bumble Bee eggs will hatch after four days and pupate in about two weeks. In another two weeks, the pupae will be adults. Once the adults mate, the males will die and the successful females will overwinter until emerging in the spring and finding a new host nest.
The Gypsy Cuckoo Bumble Bee is capable of living in a diverse range of habitats from meadows and agricultural fields to woodlands. Because it is a parasitic bumble bee and is dependent on its host species to raise and care for its young, it must live where one or both of its hosts live. Gypsy Cuckoos tend to forage in or near woodland areas, in fields and grasslands, and along the sides of the roads. The Gypsy Cuckoo Bumble Bee may overwinter in rotting logs, leaf litter, soil burrows, or garden compost. Only females that have mated will overwinter, while the rest of the females and all of the males die at the end of the season.
Conservation and recovery strategies:
The first step to Gypsy Cuckoo Bumble Bee recovery is to recover their host species- the Yellow-banded Bumble Bee and the Rusty-patched Bumble Bee. This means tackling issues like habitat loss and degradation, pesticide and fertilizer use, diseases from domestic bees, and climate change. Currently, researchers are trying to recover Yellow-banded populations through breeding and community science programs. Since the Rusty-patched Bumble Bee may be extirpated from Ontario, it will take a great deal more work to re-introduce them, but similar methods to the Yellow-banded Bumble Bee can be used. Another important part of recovery is to increase research into finding current locations of Gypsy Cuckoo Bumble Bees, since not many have been found in the past few years in Canada.
Government of Ontario. 2016. Gypsy Cuckoo Bumble Bee. Retrieved from: https://www.ontario.ca/page/gypsy-cuckoo-bumble-bee
COSEWIC. 2014. COSEWIC assessment and status report on the Gypsy Cuckoo Bumble Bombus bohemicus in Canada. Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. Ottawa. ix + 56 pp. https://www.sararegistry.gc.ca/virtual_sara/files/cosewic/sr_Gypsy%20Cuckoo%20Bumble%20Bee_2014_e.pdf
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