What’s with the tents behind the baseball field?


These tents contain several colonies of a native bumblebee, Bombus impatiens. These colonies are commercially available for large scale pollination. This summer our lab is investigating the expression of antimicrobial peptides in bumblebees, under different pesticide exposures. With the decline of honeybee populations, bumblebees are increasingly important pollinators of crops and wild plants. However, there has been concern that certain pesticides, such as neonicotinoids, may have adverse affects on the immune response in bees.

Our goal in this project is to sample bumblebees from a variety of wild and agricultural settings around Maine and to measure their parasite load and expression of antimicrobial peptides. These small proteins are an important part of the immune response in insects. These field surveys will be coupled with controlled experiments here at Colby, so that we can establish a baseline effect for these compounds on the bee’s immune function.

So, you may wonder, do the tents pose a hazard?

Bumblebees are generally not aggressive, although they will defend their hive if it is disturbed. So, the easiest way to stay safe is to stay clear of the hives. If a bee of any kind flies by you, it’s always best to ignore it and calmly walk away. Don’t swat at it, since this will cause it to defend itself increasing its chance of stinging.

Maine has a diversity of bumblebees, with 16 documented species. The most common species around Colby’s campus is Bombus impatiens. Therefore, the bumblebees housed in these tents are the same as many nesting throughout the woods and campus grounds.


Please feel free to comment below or contact me by e-mail.

Additional information:

Colla, S., Richardson, L., and P. Williams. (2011). Bumble Bees of the Eastern United States. USDA Forest Service. http://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/pollinators/documents/BumbleBeeGuideEast2011.pdf 

Treatment of bumble see stings and allergies. Koppert Biological Systems. http://www.bumblebeestings.info

McGarth, M. “Widespread impacts of neonicotinoids ‘impossible to deny'”. BBC News. 23 June 2014. http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-27980344