Bumblebee-sniffing dog creating a buzz

Bumblebee-sniffing dog creating a buzz

Bumblebee numbers are in decline around the world, and that's not good news for the fruit and vegetable industry, which relies on the insects and their honeybee cousins for pollination.

So Plant and Food Research has brought in a very special helper – Ollie the Bumblebee dog.

Ollie and his owner, pollination scientist David Pattemore, are learning how to sniff out bumblebee queens in an effort to help Kiwi growers.

Honeybees are New Zealand's number-one pollinators, but they're not the 'bee all and end all'. The lucrative manuka honey industry is making them an expensive choice.

"The cost for hiring honeybees has increased so much we think it's time to find a second managed pollinator species for growers in New Zealand," says Dr Pattemore.

Bumblebees aren't just more cost-effective than honeybees; they're not susceptible to the varroa mite. They're tougher flying in wind and rain, and their big, furry bodies help them do the work of up to 50 honeybees.

Unlike honey bees, bumblebees don't live in hives; instead, home is a hole in the ground.

"Our initial aim is to just make a bumblebee box that queens like to nest in," says Dr Pattemore.

That's where Ollie comes in. The more queens and their nests he can help find, the more information researchers have to help make the best bumblebee bunkers possible.

At seven months old, Ollie is still a puppy and Dr Pattemore says they still have more work to do to sharpen Ollie's bee hunting skills.

Ollie is helping create a buzz about the humble bumblebee.

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