Dogs and bees generally don’t play well together. We’ve all seen a poor pup with a swollen nose after a run-in with a buzzing bee. But for Wisconsin’s bumble bees, a dog might just be their new best friend!

Thanks to the incredible support from the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin’s Wisconsin Pollinator Protection Fund, Midwest Conservation Dogs, Inc. (MCDI) has begun training our professional detection dogs to locate bumble bee nests. 

Scent detection by MCDI.

Bumble Bees in Wisconsin

There are 250 species of bumble bees worldwide, with 46 species found throughout the United States. Wisconsin is home to 20 species of bumble bees, including the federally endangered rusty patched bumble bee. These fuzzy, buzzing teddy bears of the sky are so fun to watch. We don’t know about you, but bumble bees just make us smile.

Aside from being cute, they are admirable creatures. Hard-working and efficient pollinators, bumble bees are responsible for assisting pollination of a variety of Wisconsin crops, such as apples, berries, squashes, tomatoes, and alfalfa. Thanks to their ability to buzz pollinate (where they literally shiver their flight muscles), their hairy bodies can dislodge an incredible amount of pollen from each flower.

 

Bumble bee by MCDI.

How Conservation Dogs Can Help Bumble Bees

While a big buzzing bumble bee isn’t hard to spot, researchers are still a bit stumped about bumble bee nesting behavior and ideal nesting habitat.

Bumble bees are opportunistic nesters, utilizing spaces other animals have created, such as mouse and bird nests, or hollowed out logs and cavities. They also burrow into loose soil and debris, like garden mulch or grass clumps. With so many locations a bumble bee nest could be, surveys can be quite difficult. That is where MCDI comes in! A trained detection dog can locate out-of-sight nests without disturbing them, using their incredible sense of smell! 

K9 Betty White working through training to detect bumble bee nests. Photo by Lindsay Hayward

Our goal is to collaborate with researchers and various organizations throughout the Midwest, using this innovative data collection method to assist conservation. Adding any info to the collective information pool will help develop species habitat associations, trends in nesting preferences, and other important research. The trained MCDI teams will survey alongside our partnering organizations, sniffing out the homes of our buzzing friends.

Executive Director and Lead Handler, Laura Holder, with K9 Ernie. Photo by Lindsay Hayward

If identifying a bumble bee buzzing around a garden sounds like an enjoyable pastime for you, we highly recommend checking out the Bumble Bee Brigade to learn how you can become involved. The data collected through citizen science observations is incredibly valuable.

MCDI would love your help too! As our organization and Pollinator Program continue to grow, there will be opportunities for public involvement. We would love for you to connect with us on social media and keep in touch about our bumble bee friends.

By Amy Wagnitz, Director of Programs at MCDI

About Us

Midwest Conservation Dogs, Inc is a Milwaukee-based nonprofit that works throughout the Midwest. Our organization aids in various conservation efforts by deploying professional scent detection dog/handler teams. Learn more at our website and follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Youtube. 

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