Everyone needs an advocate.

Even the awkward and clumsy bumblebees have their own protection society, with friends dedicated to their care and preservation. In the United Kingdom, that support comes from the Bumblebee Conservation Trust, which has a vision for a “world where bumblebees are thriving and valued,” and a mission to “increase the number and distribution of bumblebees.”

Across the proverbial pond, in our neck of the woods, there are local, regional and national groups working to the same ends. Bumblebees, for all of their bluster and blunder, are vital and at risk.

The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation (think pollinator protection superheroes) notes that 28 per cent of North American bumblebees are in peril of extinction. The decline of bumblebees is not surprising, with habitat loss, climate change and pesticide and herbicide use leading the troubled way to their demise. Match that with their small foraging range, competition from nonnative bees and solitary lifestyle, and you have a principal population in danger.

Bumblebees are crucial pollinators. They can fly in low light and at cooler temperatures than other bee species, so they hold a specific and special niche. Their essential worker status was noticed early on.

Charles Darwin, writing in On the Origin of Species in 1859, speculated about what he called “humble-bees” and their connections to other species, explaining “I have [...] reason to believe that humble-bees are indispensable to the fertilization of the heartsease (Viola tricolor), for other bees do not visit this flower. From experiments which I have tried, I have found that the visits of bees, if not indispensable, are at least highly beneficial to the fertilization of our clovers; but humble-bees alone visit the common red clover (Trifolium pratense), as other bees cannot reach the nectar.”

As spring unfolds, queen bumblebees have emerged and are doing their zig-zag flight pattern, looking for new homes to start their families. As a solitary bee, the queen begins alone, but quickly begins to build her community after she finds a nest site.

First, she will build wax pots in which to store nectar, pollen and her eggs. The first round of offspring she will go it alone, creating and rearing female worker bees and male drone bees to adulthood to care for her through the season. In the fall, her crew will create new queens, called gynes, that will hibernate over the winter and then start the cycle anew. The founding queen will be killed before winter comes so the gynes will not have any competition.

The bumblebees that manage to elude predators, habitat destruction, pest and yard chemical spraying and other dangers will return the favor with their pollination services. A special method, called buzz pollination, increases the dispersion of pollen through the shaking action of these bees’ wings and legs. This particular method is very important for favorite crops such as tomatoes, blueberries and eggplants. So be a friend, not a foe, to these insects by keeping wild spaces for habitat, eliminating pesticides and herbicides use, and letting them breed successfully.

The survival of the bees is the survival of our species or as a Congolese proverb has it: “When the bee comes to your house, let her have a beer; you may want to visit the bee’s house someday.”

Suzan Bellincampi is director of the Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary in Edgartown, and author of Martha’s Vineyard: A Field Guide to Island Nature and The Nature of Martha’s Vineyard.