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Reviewed by:
  • Bumble Bees of the Western United States by Jonathan Koch, James Strange, Paul Williams
  • David Smith (bio)
Bumble Bees of the Western United States Jonathan Koch, James Strange, Paul Williams A product of the USDA Forest Service and the Pollinator Partnership with funding from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. 2012. 144 p. To obtain this publication, visit the Pollinator Partnership at page versions are available through the USDA Forest Service at or at

In 2007, the National Resource Council released its report Status of Pollinators in North America. Specific status information of many groups, such as most native bee species, are lacking long-term data. The Council found sufficient evidence, however, that overall, pollinators in North America are experiencing population decline; and in particular, several North American bumble bees (Bombus sp.). Franklin’s bumble bee (Bombus franklini), currently being reviewed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, may be among the first bee species to receive protection under the Endangered Species Act. Numerous other bumble bee species have declined in abundance and range across North America. The foreword written for this book clearly emphasizes the value of collaborators, including citizen scientists, providing location information for scientists who are studying bumble bee populations and status in an effort to collect and document these needed long-term data.

The book begins with an introduction that describes what bumble bees are, how many species exist, habitats in which they can be found, and other interesting life history information. This is followed by numerous pages showing important body part structures needed for species-level identification. The diagrams are very clear and easy to understand. Next, species descriptions grouped by major morphological characteristics (cheek length, distinctive mid leg characteristics, and the presence or absence of a corbiculum) are presented. Each bumble bee species receives 4 pages of information that includes emergence phenology for queens, workers and males; color photographs of live and pinned specimens; detailed range maps; and a brief written description of the species’ status, host plants, distribution, and other miscellaneous information. More detailed character descriptions are provided to help confirm species identification after running the specimen through the identification key. Schematic diagrams that show the amazing color diversity that exists even within a single bumble bee species are also included. I found the range maps to be extremely detailed and valuable.

After the species descriptions is an identification key to female bumble bees. I took the time to run some bumble bee specimens through this key alongside the DiscoverLife key currently available on the Internet (also listed on back inside cover as a web resource) and obtained identical results. The key is straightforward and not difficult to use. I think field identification of collected bumble bees can definitely be accomplished with this guide and a good hand lens. I do recommend [End Page 116] that those who are not experienced in bee identification should practice using this key with species-determined specimens, if available.

When the Bumble Bees of the Eastern United States was first published in 2011, followed by this publication, I was initially curious about who was the target audience. As mentioned above, numerous citizen science groups are organized to collect information and report on native bee distribution and abundance. Such information is only as good as the accuracy of the species identification. There have been many requests on pollinator survey blogs and websites for references on how to identify bees, including bumble bees, without having to collect, kill, and pin them. This publication will not necessarily satisfy that particular audience. Immediately in the introduction the authors discuss the morphological characters needed for bumble bee species-level identification: malar space length (short versus long faces), ocelli location in relation to the supraorbital line, hair color details, and so forth. The authors recommend using all of these characteristics because “some species look nearly identical, especially when flying.” The key itself identifies only female worker bumble bees; key users will need to determine if indeed they are observing a female worker rather than a male or a queen. This...


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