Bumblebees Survive Underwater for Days During Hibernation, Study Finds

Hibernating queen bumblebees can survive up to a week underwater, a surprising trait that may help the species endure climate change-driven flooding, according to a new study.

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Bumblebees Survive Underwater for Days During Hibernation, Study Finds

Bumblebees Survive Underwater for Days During Hibernation, Study Finds

A new study published in the journal Biology Letters has revealed that hibernating queen bumblebees can survive being submerged underwater for up to a week. The research, led by Sabrina Rondeau at the University of Guelph, discovered this unexpected trait in the common eastern bumblebee, a species widespread in eastern North America.

The researchers conducted experiments where they placed 143 hibernating queen bumblebees in tubes, with some fully submerged in water. Surprisingly, 81% of the submerged queens not only survived for seven days underwater but also remained alive eight weeks later. This survival rate was similar to the 88% rate observed in the control group.

Rondeau and her team suspect that the queens' lowered metabolism during hibernation helps them withstand drowning by allowing them to keep their spiracles (breathing openings) closed for longer periods. This flood tolerance could help the species endure flooding in the wild, as bumblebee queens are known to burrow into soil to hibernate.

Why this matters:The findings are encouraging amid worrying global trends of declining bumblebee populations, which are vital pollinators for ecosystems. The study suggests that increased winter rain due to climate change may not be a major threat to the common eastern bumblebee , as previously speculated.

While the long-term impact on the bees' health and effects on their colonies still require further research, the study highlights how little is known about bumblebees' nesting, hibernation, and reproduction compared to their interactions with flowers. The researchers plan to explore the mechanisms behind the queens' resilience to flooding , with their low oxygen requirements during hibernation being a potential factor.

The study did not establish an upper limit on how long the queens could survive underwater, and further research is needed to determine if other bumblebee species have a similar trait. "This is an encouraging finding amid worrying global trends of declining bumblebee populations," said Rondeau. The findings highlight the need to understand the full life cycle of these important pollinators in order to effectively conserve them.

Key Takeaways

  • Hibernating queen bumblebees can survive up to 1 week underwater.
  • 81% of submerged queens survived 7 days underwater, similar to control group.
  • Lowered metabolism during hibernation helps queens withstand drowning.
  • Findings suggest increased winter rain may not threaten eastern bumblebees.
  • More research needed on bumblebee resilience and conservation strategies.