R. A. Cumber

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N.Z. Science Review


New Zealand Association of Scientists

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At least two hundred papers describing habits of the different humble-bee species have been written, but the majority are fragmentary. In Europe, the work of Hoffer (1882), Sladen (1912), and Friese (1923) are more comprehensive. Sladen's book, "The Humble-bee, Its Life History, and how to Domesticate It," which is the outstanding contribution, is well illustrated and the result of a life-long association with the subject. It contains a wealth of information gained from critical observation. The American counterpart, "Bumble-bees and Their Ways" by Plath (1934) contains an extensive bibliography. The many papers of Frison on the North American species are also worthy of mention. The life cycle described here is that which occurs in Southern England. The majority of humble-bee species are found in the temperate regions, but they range from the tropics to the arctic circle, and in their northern and southern limits their habits are modified. Groups of species from the temperate regions also show different habits and have been classified accordingly. There is a need for a more recent general account of the life cycle of humble-bees. The older account, although excellent, are not always accessible, and an interpretation of the cycle in the light of more recent studies would seem desirable. The present account is far too brief to fill the gap completely, but it is hoped that it will prove useful. In the years 1946-48 more than 160 nests belonging to nine species were studied in England. A large number of dissections were made, and changes in internal organs were noted and studied in relation to changes in habit. Statistical analyses were made of nests of different sizes in order to obtain a true picture of the changes taking place. Some of the information gained is incorporated in the present account. The importance of humble-bees in agriculture has been realized since Darwin's time. The unsatisfactory red-clover seed yields in this country have been mainly responsible for our interest in them. The life cycle and ecology of the introduced species is now being studied, but as a prerequisite to studies in New Zealand, the life cycle found in England, whence our species came, must be fully understood if modifications from the normal are to be detected.

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