Bees face many threats these days, from habitat fragmentation and loss to pesticides and climate change. A healthy population is important, as around a third of our food wouldn’t be on our plates without the help of pollinators. They have a new hero, though: A dog roaming the countryside with goggles and boots.
Darwin the Bee Dog, a two-year-old German Short Haired Pointer, is the only canine in the country who sniffs out underground bee’s nests. He travels across alpine areas in Colorado with his owner, researcher Jacqueline Staab. The goal is to learn as much as possible about bumble bees.
Staab says, “Not a lot is known about bumble bee nesting because they’re so hard to find. Basically, the only way you can find an exact location of a bumble bee nest is like just like serendipitously stumbling upon one or detection dogs, which is why he’s so important.”
Darwin learned the trade at Highland K-9 in Harmony, North Carolina. It was right up his genetic alley. Several of his relatives are detectors, including one who works as a cadaver dog with the New York City Police Department.
Through Darwin’s special nest detection skills, Staab and her fellow researchers from Appalachian State University in North Carolina have learned a lot. They’ve uncovered more information on how bees survive harsh winters and what kind of flowers they like. They also came across a new species of bumble bee.
Every little bit of knowledge helps.
Staab explains, “You need to know all the pieces of the puzzle if you’re going to save a species.”
Safeguarding bees is important to the world economically and environmentally. Pollinators are critical in the production of more than 100 U.S.-grown crops, and they contribute an estimated $18 billion in revenue every year. We can thank them for many of the fruits, veggies, nuts, and legumes we eat.
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We can also thank them for their environmental benefit. Their presence supports healthy ecosystems necessary for clean air, stable soils, and diverse wildlife. If it weren’t for their pollination, many other species could die due to the resulting plant loss.
Darwin stands at the ready to help, though.
Staab says, “Darwin is not afraid of a challenge. He’s ready to go, and we’re going to find them all.”
With the knowledge they’re gaining and the information we already have to maintain healthy bee populations, Staab thinks we can get the upper hand on the struggles bees are facing. She believes there’s optimism for the future.
She explains, “If we really start working now and working towards preserving the pollinators, preserving land, figuring out what they need for nesting, overwintering, we can, there’s still time to make a difference. It’s not all doom and gloom. We can work together and preserve our precious native pollinators.”
If you’d like to take some steps of your own to protect bees, here are some tips.
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