Remembering “The Old Man and The Bee”

The upcoming WAS Conference will offer a specialized class for those who are interested in learning more about bumble bees endemic to the Southern Oregon area. Our local ski mountain becomes a wildflower oasis in the summer!  This has been the stomping grounds of Dr. Robbin Thorp for the last 21 years.  It was here that he found the illusive “Franklin’s bumble bee” in 1998, and sighted her last in 2006.  We lost Dr. Thorp earlier this month, and I’m truly having a hard time processing the death of a man with so much to offer this world, that I looked up to so much, and who had such a depth of love for bees.  

He volunteered at the “Kids and Bees” program that I offered at the UC Davis WAS conference a couple of years ago, and I absolutely loved watching him blow kid’s minds while zooping bees up in his Marvin the Martian gun.  

His teaching style was gentle and patient.  Robbin’s bumble bee course at the Siskiyou Field Institute a few years ago was my first real introduction to native bees.  His wealth of knowledge, generosity, and kindness was bottomless.  His bee collection, flawless.  And his grin, priceless.

My second year into the ODOT research project, I excitedly sent him a bee that I was convinced was the Bombus franklini.  Despite the large load that was on his plate, he instantly got back to me.  It was, in fact, a light colored B. vosnesenskii (not uncommon in the least), and even had a small halictidae folded into her arms (that I had totally missed).  He thought that part was a crack up!

If I spend too long thinking about my memories of Robbin, my eyes start to sting, and I lose focus on what I’m doing.  So.  In an effort to remain on pointe here, I’d like to let you know how we will be honoring Dr. Thorp at WAS Ashland.

Dr. Jaime Strange will be leading the “Introduction to Bumble Bee Diversity” workshop on Robbin’s stomping grounds on Mount Ashland.  Near where he last spotted the Bombus franklini, we will raise a glass of mead to him, and Jamie will provide a remembrance in his honor.           

Jamie will also provide a remembrance at the banquet for Dr. Thorpe and his legacy.             

In case you are not familiar with Dr. Strange, he is part of the USDA-ARS-Pollinating Insects Research Unit, and his research over the years has focused on many different species of bumblebees, such as the Vosnesensky Bumble Bee and the Western Bumble Bee. He is currently partnered with multiple universities on projects that focus around topics such as the impacts of pesticides and on the connection between population genetics of bumble bees and how it impacts their resilience to changing environments. Such research is certainly increasing in importance in this rapidly evolving climate.

If you’re wanting a few hours in the more rugged terrain around Ashland and the chance to learn more about the incredible bumble bees surrounding us and discuss the future ahead of them, as well as the perfect chance to honor Dr. Thorp, sign up for the Introduction to Bumblebee Diversity workshop while there are still a few spots left.

“People often ask the value of Franklin's bumble bee," Thorp told Kathy Keatley Garvey in a 2010 interview for the UC Davis entomology blog. "In terms of a direct contribution to the grand scale of human economies, perhaps not much, but no one has measured its contribution in those terms. However, in the grand scheme of our planet and its environmental values, I would say it is priceless.”

“Loss of a species, especially a pollinator, diminishes our global environment,” he said. “Bumble bees provide an important ecological service--pollination. This service is critical to reproduction of a huge diversity of plants that in turn provide shelter, food (seeds, fruits) to diverse wildlife. The potential cascade of effects from the removal of even one localized pollinator may affect us directly and indirectly.”

Sarah Red-LairdComment