One only needs a short walk on a wooded trail after a good rain to be attacked by Maine’s state bird. I’m talking about the mosquito, of course, not the chickadee. Trying to bat all limbs at once, I often find myself in a dance resembling that “inside-inside outside-outside” drill I finally mastered during my brief tenure on the JV soccer team before confirming that my ball sport talents were better suited to the chess team.

Although I may dream of a world without mosquitoes, they are powerful pollinators and vital members of the food chain. Despite sometimes feeling it must be me, the primary food source for each of the more than 3,700 subspecies of mosquito is nectar. Especially as the climate crisis is driving more vector-borne diseases, mosquitoes might not be high on everyone’s appreciation list. Bees are another creature often maligned as a pest. Bees, however, are a “keystone” organism because they are integral to productivity in a variety of ecosystems.

In 2000, the Bombus subterraneus – or short-haired bumblebee – was declared extinct in the United Kingdom. Pesticides and habitat loss were two key reasons for their eradication. While I was living there in 2012, English conservationists sparked public outcry in Sweden after “stealing” 100 queens in an effort to repopulate the species. Despite allegedly having permission from the Swedish Board of Agriculture, the local authorities hadn’t been informed, and were, naturally, concerned their own bee population might meet the same fate as Britain’s.

Land development and chemicals are also threatening Maine’s bees. Of the 30,000 known global bee species, 270 are indigenous to Maine, including 17 species of bumblebee. While comprising 20% of the state’s bee population in 1989, the rusty patched bumblebee became the first bee in the contiguous United States to be listed as endangered in 2016.

In lieu of a vacation, I make an annual trek to Dresden to harvest wild blueberries at Fields Fields Blueberries, a second-generation, Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association-certified organic farm run by Jesse and Ashley Field. Like other blueberry farmers, the Fields rely on bees to pollinate their blossoms in the spring.

According to the University of Maine, 500 colonies of honeybees were brought into the state in 1965 to supplement native pollinators ahead of the blueberry harvest. By 2016, that number had skyrocketed to 80,000 colonies. The majority of these non-native bees are migratory Western honeybees, which are trucked around the country to different crops, from Southern peaches to Northern blueberries. Today, only 20% of our state’s 100 million-pound wild blueberry yield is attributed to native pollinators.


In 2021, the Fields began keeping their own hives, a mixture of Italian and Russian honeybees (unlike bumbles, honeybees are not native to Maine – or even North America). This year, the Fields added 12 hives of common Eastern bumblebees, a native species but grown in a lab because of dwindling in-state numbers. While honeybees fly greater distances and are active across a wider temperature range, they need to visit each blueberry blossom seven to nine times for the flower to be pollinated. Bumblebees, on the other hand, only need to fly near a flower once because they resonate – or buzz – at just the right frequency for the flower to release its pollen.

Since cultivating their own hives, Ashley has seen healthier insects, likely the result of lower stress and a more varied diet. Stronger bees have meant she has largely been able to avoid diseases like the Varroa mite, which is so common that its treatment is considered routine care. As one of the few organic wild blueberry farms, staying chemical-free is important for her ethos – and her honey.

Although I am often more grateful for mosquitoes as food for bats and turtles, the survival of bees as pollinators is something over which we, as individuals, have a lot of agency. In 2021, community action led the Maine Legislature to ban the use of neonicotinoids, pesticides that are particularly harmful to bees. Beyond state action, consider taking part in a “No/Low Mow May,” in which lawns are allowed to grow so as not to harm bees still hibernating in the ground and to provide them food upon emergence. Similarly, embrace native wildflowers in shoulder seasons or add a bird bath to provide water for thirsty honeybees. Finally, reassess the use of pesticides and herbicides, which either kill bees directly or eliminate their food sources.

Saturday and Sunday are the third annual Wild Blueberry Weekend. Modeled after Maine Maple Sunday, 15 farms from Dresden to the Canadian border invite guests to learn about the state’s staple crop. Ashley and Jesse Field are busy preparing their farm for tours of both the blueberry process and the apiary, where visitors can learn about the fruit and its symbiotic relationship with the bees.

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