Darwin, America’s first ‘bee dog,’ helps conservationists save at-risk bee species

Too many people think of bees as a nuisance, or even a danger because of their stingers, but the reality is that bees are an essential part of our ecosystems — and we need to protect them before they’re gone for good.

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While the bumblebee is a crucial pollinator, their population numbers have been decreasing due to increased climate temperatures and habitat loss. Conservationists have been increasingly stepping up to help save these bees before it’s too late, as their disappearance will have drastic environmental effects.

And now, one unlikely hero is stepping up to help conserve the bees: Darwin, America’s first-ever “bee dog.”

Darwin, a two-year-old German Short Haired Pointer, is specially trained to sniff out wild nests of alpine bumblebees. Every summer he heads out into the mountains of Colorado with his owner, Jacqueline Staab, a researcher at Appalachian State University in North Carolina.

By finding these hard-to-detect bee nests, he’s doing a crucial part in helping researchers save the species.

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Posted by Darwin the Bee Dog on Wednesday, July 24, 2019

“Not a lot is known about bumblebee nesting because they’re so hard to find,” Jacqueline told The Denver Channel. “Basically, the only way you can find an exact location of a bumblebee nest is like just like serendipitously stumbling upon one or detection dogs, which is why he’s so important.”

“You need to know all the pieces of the puzzle if you’re going to save a species.”

She says that Darwin’s work has led to some big breakthroughs in her team’s research. They’ve been able to study how bees are able to survive harsh conditions, and even discovered a new species of bumblebee.

Scanning for bees in South Park

Posted by Darwin the Bee Dog on Sunday, July 11, 2021

Even though it’s an important job, Darwin is unique: Jaqueline says he is “America’s first conservation dog that specializes in finding bumblebee nests” — mostly because no one else seems interested in the field.

“I called a bunch of people and they were like, ‘what? I’ll get back to you never. Bumblebees, are you crazy?'” she told 9News. Darwin was eventually trained by Highland K-9, in Harmony, North Carolina.

While there’s still not a lot of interest in the field of bee-detecting dogs, Jacqueline says dogs like Darwin can be a very useful tool in a crucial fight to help this species.

“Bumblebees are in decline worldwide,” she said. “Obviously, there’s going to be cascading ecological effects if we lose keystone pollinators in any environment, much less the alpine.”

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“If we really start working now and working towards preserving the pollinators, preserving land, figuring out what they need for nesting, overwintering, we can, there’s still time to make a difference,” Jacqueline told The Denver Channel. “It’s not all doom and gloom. We can work together and preserve our precious native pollinators.”

And while finding these bees is important work, it can also be a nice experience: Jacqueline says that Darwin is always ready to go search and is “not afraid of a challenge,” while she fulfills her lifelong dream of working with animals in a beautiful, scenic area.

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“There is nothing like an alpine meadow in the middle of the summer just covered in wildflowers,” Jacqueline said. “This place is just a dream to work.”

She told The Denver Channel that next year, she is looking to add a second dog to the bee-searching team. Hopefully even more dogs like this will follow in the future, but for now we can thank Darwin for leading the way as America’s first “bee dog.”

Thank you to Darwin and his owner Jacqueline for doing so much to save the bees! They’re so important to the environment, and we need more people (and dogs) stepping up to help them.

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