Bumble Bee: All You Need to Know in a Quick Guide

Bumblebees, belonging to the genus Bombus, play a crucial role in our ecosystem as they pollinate various plants and contribute to the growth of many fruits, vegetables, and flowers.

These fuzzy, black-and-yellow insects are known for their distinct appearance and buzzing flight. As native bees to North America, bumblebees can be spotted in diverse habitats, from farmlands and open spaces to gardens in urban areas.

Bumble Bee

Their fascinating life cycle begins with the queen bee emerging in spring and forming a colony throughout summer.

Over time, the colony grows as worker bees play a key role in collecting nectar and pollen, thus ensuring the colony’s well-being.

Bumblebees face multiple threats, such as habitat loss, urban development, climate change, and diseases introduced by non-native species.

Understanding the importance and conservation of these busy pollinators can help maintain a healthy and vibrant ecosystem.

Bumble Bee Basics

Bee Species and Identification

Bumble bees (genus Bombus) are large, fuzzy, and robust insects that play a crucial role in pollination. There are around 250 known species of bumble bees worldwide, each with unique color patterns and features.

Identifying bumble bees often involves examining their abdomen, which is covered in black or yellow hairs. Here are some examples of common species:

  • Bombus pensylvanicus: A fuzzy black-and-yellow bee found in North America.
  • Bombus terrestris: A widespread European species with a white tail.

Key Features of Bumble Bees

Bumble bees are known for their distinct appearance and behavior. Some of their key features include:

  • Large size compared to other bees.
  • Fuzzy, hairy bodies usually with black and yellow stripes.
  • Two pairs of wings that enable fast and agile flight.
  • Presence of pollen baskets on their hind legs for carrying pollen.

Comparison Table: Bumble Bee vs. Honey Bee

Feature Bumble Bee Honey Bee
Size Larger (up to 2.5 cm) Smaller (up to 1.5 cm)
Body Texture Fuzzy and hairy Less fuzzy, smoother
Pollen Basket Present on hind legs Absent
Color Mostly black and yellow Yellow with brown

Bumble Bee Behavior

Bumble bees, like many other insects, exhibit a range of behaviors that are intricately linked to their survival, reproduction, and social structure.

Understanding these behaviors provides a glimpse into their fascinating world and underscores their importance in our ecosystem.

1. Social Structure

Bumble bees live in colonies led by a single queen. The colony consists of female workers, males, and, eventually, new queens.

Unlike honeybees, bumble bee colonies are annual, meaning they last for only one season.

  • Queen: The dominant female in the colony, responsible for laying eggs.
  • Workers: Sterile females that perform various tasks like foraging, feeding the young, and defending the nest.
  • Males: Their primary role is to mate with new queens.
Brown-Belted Bumble Bee

2. Communication

Bumble bees communicate primarily through chemical signals known as pheromones. These chemical messages can indicate various things, from signaling danger to directing others to food sources.

  • Nasonov Pheromone: Released by worker bees to guide others back to the colony or a rich food source.
  • Alarm Pheromone: Emitted when the colony is threatened, alerting other bees to defend the nest.

3. Navigation

Bumble bees have an incredible ability to navigate. They use a combination of visual landmarks, the sun’s position, and even polarized light patterns in the sky, which are invisible to the human eye.

  • Path Integration: Bumble bees can calculate the distance and direction back to their nest based on their outbound flight.
  • Flower Memory: They remember which flowers they’ve visited and when, ensuring they don’t waste energy revisiting them until they’ve had time to replenish their nectar.

4. Foraging Behavior

Bumble bees exhibit flower constancy, meaning they tend to visit the same type of flower during a single foraging trip.

This behavior is beneficial for plants, as it enhances the chances of cross-pollination.

5. Thermoregulation

Unique among bees, bumble bees can regulate their body temperature by rapidly moving their flight muscles.

This ability allows them to remain active in cooler temperatures when other bees might be dormant.

6. Interaction with Other Bees

Bumble bees are generally non-aggressive towards other bees. However, they can become defensive if their nest is threatened.

They also occasionally “rob” nectar by making a hole near the base of a flower, accessing the nectar without pollinating the flower.

7. Mating Behavior

Once males leave the nest, they don’t return. They spend their time feeding on nectar and looking for queens to mate with.

After mating, the male bee’s life is typically complete, while the fertilized queen seeks a place to hibernate and start a new colony the following year.

Life Cycle and Reproduction

Colony Formation and Roles

Bumblebee colonies are formed by a single queen who emerges in spring.

She finds a suitable nesting site, collects nectar and pollen, and lays her first batch of eggs.

Some examples of nesting sites include tussocky grass and cavities in rocks or even rodent burrows.

American Bumble Bee
  • Queen bees: Responsible for laying eggs and producing new colony members.
  • Female workers: Non-reproductive and help the colony by collecting food and taking care of the brood.
  • Male bumblebees: Fertilize the new queens for the next season.

From Egg to Adult

Bumblebee life cycle consists of four stages: egg, larva, pupa, and adult. Here’s a comparison table to help understand the differences:

Stage Description Duration
Egg Laid by the queen bee; small, white, and oval-shaped. 4-5 days
Larva Hatches from the egg; white, worm-like, and grows by eating pollen and nectar mixed by worker bees. 10-14 days
Pupa Transforms from larva inside a cocoon-like structure; develops into an adult bee. 10-14 days
Adult Emerges from the pupa; either becomes a queen, a female worker, or a male bumblebee. Variable life

Two examples of how the bumblebee’s life cycle is regulated include seasonal changes and available resources. Queens emerge in spring, and colonies usually last until fall.

Overall, understanding the life cycle and reproduction of bumblebees helps in preserving their populations, which play a crucial role in pollinating plants and maintaining a healthy ecosystem.

Habitat and Nesting Sites

Nesting in the Ground

Bumble bees, particularly those of the genus Bombus, are often found nesting in the ground. They prefer cavities in rock or talus, tussocky grass, and even rodent burrows.

Queen bees look for suitable nesting sites usually in spring, after emerging from their underground hibernation.

Examples of ground-nesting sites:

  • Old mouse nests
  • Abandoned rodent burrows
  • Sheltered spots in gardens with native plants

Ground nesting sites provide:

  • Protection from predators
  • Insulation against temperature changes

Nesting in Wood

Bumble bees can also nest in wooden habitats, finding sheltered spaces near the ground’s surface. These sites can include hollow trees, wooden structures, and piles of logs or branches.

To support wood-nesting bumble bees in your garden, incorporate native plants and provide suitable spaces for them to build their nests.

Common Eastern Bumble Bee

Examples of wood-nesting sites:

  • Inside hollow trees
  • Between stacks of firewood
  • In wooden garden structures
Habitat Type Pros Cons
Ground More abundant sites Vulnerable to disturbance
Wood Natural insulation May be rarer habitats

Habitat Loss: Both ground and wood-nesting bumble bees have been negatively affected by habitat loss, particularly in the northern hemisphere and South America.

To help conserve their populations, consider creating or maintaining natural spaces in your garden, incorporating native plants, and minimizing pesticide use.

Diet and Foraging Behavior

Flowers and Pollinators

Bumble bees are essential pollinators as they visit various flowers to feed on nectar and collect pollen for their colonies.

As they forage for these resources, they carry out the critical process of pollination. Some distinct features of bumble bees as pollinators are:

  • Long tongues to reach the nectar in deep flowers.
  • Ability to fly in cooler temperatures and low light conditions.
  • Preference for native and flowering plants.

Here’s a quick comparison of bumble bees and honeybees as pollinators:

Bumble Bees Honeybees
Tongue length Long Short
Flight ability Cooler temperatures Warmer temperatures
Plant types Native & flowering Wide range of plants

Pollination Techniques

Bumble bees use a unique foraging behavior called buzz pollination.

During this process, the bee shakes its body rapidly, releasing pollen from flowers, which then attaches to their hind legs, allowing them to transport the pollen to the next flower.

This process is highly effective for pollination, and not all bees are capable of performing it.

For example, buzz pollination is essential for plants like tomatoes and blueberries, which require vibrations to release their pollen.

While other bees, like honeybees, cannot perform this behavior, bumble bees excel at it, making them crucial for the pollination of these plants.

Perplexing Bumble Bee

Threats and Conservation

Environmental Challenges

Bumblebees face various environmental challenges, including pesticides and climate change. The use of pesticides, such as insecticides, can harm these crucial pollinators, decreasing their populations.

Climate change also negatively impacts bumblebees, as it affects their habitats and food sources.

For example, consider these two common threats:

  • Pesticides: Harmful to bumblebees and other pollinators, affecting their health and reproduction rates.
  • Climate Change: Affects the seasonal availability of flowers, which bumblebees rely on.

Supporting Bumble Bee Populations

Efforts to support bumblebee populations involve implementing conservation measures and promoting suitable habitats. Some approaches include:

  • Reducing pesticide use: Minimizing or avoiding the use of harmful chemicals can help protect bumblebees and their habitats.
  • Providing nesting and hibernation sites: Bumblebees need safe spaces to nest and hibernate during the winter months. Leaving certain areas of your yard unraked or piling leaves can provide suitable overwintering locations for queens1.
  • Planting diverse flower gardens: Providing an array of native flowering plants ensures that bumblebees have a continuous food source throughout the season.

Here is a comparison of two methods for supporting bumblebees:

Method Pros Cons
Reducing pesticide use Protects bumblebees and overall ecosystem May require alternative pest management
Planting diverse flower gardens Provides continuous food source for bumblebees Requires ongoing maintenance

As bumblebees such as the rusty patched bumble bee are listed as endangered species, it is crucial to address their threats and take necessary measures to support and conserve their populations.

Bumble Bee

Bumble Bee Interaction with Plants

Beneficial Garden Plants

Bumble bees play a crucial role as pollinators for various plants, ensuring successful reproduction. They benefit gardens by pollinating flowers, fruits, and vegetables that require insect pollination, including:

  • Tomatoes
  • Peppers
  • Squash
  • Melons
  • Strawberries

Adding plants like chives, comfrey, California poppies, columbine, sunflowers, salvia, basil, cilantro, and parsley to your garden can provide essential nectar sources and further encourage bumble bee visits1.

Buzz Pollination

As mentioned earlier, Bumble bees use a unique method called buzz pollination to collect pollen efficiently.

This method is particularly effective in plants with tubular flowers, such as tomatoes and peppers, as their anatomical structure makes it difficult for other pollinators to access the pollen2.

Specific Plant Species

Here’s a comparison table of some bumble bee-friendly plants and their characteristics:

Plant Features Benefits
Chives – Perennial herb
– Purple or white flowers
– Rich in nectar
– Attracts bumble bees
California Poppy – Annual or perennial
– Orange, red or yellow flowers
– Provides nectar and pollen
– Drought-tolerant
Columbine – Perennial
– Various colors
– Nectar-rich
– Hummingbird and bee attractant
Sunflowers – Annual
– Yellow, red, or orange flowers
– Large pollen and nectar source
– Seeds for birds
Basil – Annual herb
– White or purple flowers
– Fragrant leaves
– Attracts bees and butterflies
Cilantro – Annual herb
– White or pink flowers
– Rich in nectar
– Attracts bees and hoverflies
Parsley – Biennial herb
– Yellow-green flowers
– Nectar source
– Larval host plant for butterflies3

Adding these plants to your garden not only supports bumble bee populations but also brings aesthetic and ecological benefits to your outdoor space.

Preventing and Minimizing Stings

Bumble Bee Behavior and Safety Tips

Bumble bees are generally not aggressive, but they might sting when they feel threatened.

To minimize the risk of getting stung, it is essential to understand their behavior and follow safety precautions.

  • Stay calm and move away slowly: When you encounter a bumble bee, do not swat or make sudden movements, as this can provoke them to sting.
  • Avoid disturbing their habitat: Be cautious near nests or areas with bumble bee activity.
  • Wear protective clothing: If you need to be in areas with bumble bees, wear long sleeves, pants, and closed-toe shoes to reduce exposure.

Conclusion

Bumble bees, vital pollinators belonging to the genus Bombus, significantly impact our ecosystem by aiding the growth of numerous plants.

With around 250 species globally, these fuzzy insects, native to North America, have a unique life cycle and social structure.

Their behaviors, from communication to navigation, are intricate and crucial for their survival.

Facing threats like habitat loss and climate change, understanding and conserving these buzzing wonders is paramount to maintaining a balanced and thriving ecosystem.

Footnotes

  1. Saving the rusty patch bumble bee | U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service 2
  2. Bumblebees – US Forest Service
  3. Befriending Bumble Bees: A Practical Guide to Raising Local Bumble Bees

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Letter 1 – Bumble Bees nesting in Bird House

Carpenter Bee’s?
June 8, 2010
They have moved into my birdhouse which had birds in it until recently. I noticed them about a week ago. I thought they were bumble bees considering they were creating a nest within a fully prepped bird nest.
Looking at your website they have the black spot in the upper body, but the abdomen is not shiny as usually referenced (carpenter bees) and they don’t seem so solitary. I keep missing the picture when more are sitting out on the outside.
Just wondering if they will let me mow the lawn. Every time I venture within 6 ft they come outside and eyeball me. (haha)
dglover
Oklahoma City, OK

Bumble Bees

Dear dglover,
These are definitely Bumble Bees in the genus Bombus, but we are not certain of the species, because as you can see on BugGuide, many species look similar.  We have received reports in the past of Bumble Bees nesting in an abandoned bird house.  Bumble Bees are not aggressive, though the possibility always exists that they might sting.
Mr. Marlos,
Thank you so much for your response!  I was really wafting back and forth on these bees.   I have some random spider and wasp pictures also –  if you guys want to look at them and possibly use them.  Really good Black Widow and Wolf Spider w/egg sac also.
I hope you have a fabulous week!
Dee

Thanks for the offer Dee, but right now our mailbox has far too many letter for us to respond to, and we are culling the most interesting letters and photos for posting.  Your Bumble Bee image and letter were both wonderful.

Letter 2 – Bumble Bee Mating Frenzy

Bumblebee Gathering: Mating, Getting warm?
July 15, 2010
Continuing my backlog of photos, here is some pictures of a group of four, possibly five bumblebees. I am not exactly sure what they were doing when I took the photo. I have a video of it as well. My personal theory is that they were grouping together to stay warm, but it’s possible I witnessed a rare bumblebee orgy!
Any information you can provide will be most helpful!
Joseph Grabko
Harrisburg, PA, USA

Bumble Bee Mating Frenzy

Hi Joseph,
Thanks for sending us your photos of a Bumble Bee mating aggregation.  Two years ago, we posted a similar photo and here is what Eric Eaton had to say at the time.  “
Daniel:  The bumble bee mating behavior is typical of many ground-nesting bees.  Virgin queens are a hot commodity, so males flock to them and compete for an opportunity to mate.  Eric Eaton

Thank you for the quick response! We have a LOT of bumblebees in the summer, mainly because of our large Lavender plant in our front yard. However, this was the first and only time I had seen this behavior! I’m glad I was able to run inside fast enough to get my camera. I had to leave shortly after taking the photos and short video, and when I returned, there was no sign of them. The location they chose was odd… the sand you see is where we normally have an above-ground pool, so instead of a grassy area, they chose the one place with the least amount of cover to mate. Thank you once again for the prompt response!

Letter 3 – Black and Gold Bumble Bee

Pearl Crescent
Hello, Dan & Lisa,
I have a few photos, and I know you can’t publish them which is okey-dokey,
… And last, but not least is what I call, Big Daddy Bee, a Bombus auricomus. I love those gentle giants!
These were all in my front yard garden in Minnetonka Minnesota.
Anyway, I don’t recall seeing these on your site so I thought you might enjoy my photos.
Take care
Laura
Minnetonka Minnesota

Black and Gold Bumble Bee
Black and Gold Bumble Bee

Hi Laura,
Again, thanks for your wonderful submissions.  This Black and Gold Bumble Bee is a nice addition to our archives.

Letter 4 – American Bumble Bee

Subject: Flight of the Bumble Bee
Location: Coryell County, Texas
August 13, 2017 12:46 pm
I was pretty excited to see a bumble bee for the first time since we moved here and began planting gardens in 1999. I’ve seen one twice, alone both times. I wish the photos were clearer, but both times I saw the bee, it flew straight at my face, then up and away. I’ll keep my distance now, I do believe. 😀 Beautiful creature, though.
Photos August 8, 2017. Hot and humid, partly cloudy.
I’m not sure what kind of bumble bee it is as the differences are too subtle for me to tell. I did find this reference from Texas Parks & Wildlife: https://tpwd.texas.gov/huntwild/wild/wildlife_diversity/nongame/native-pollinators/bumblebee-id.phtml
The bee was visiting the autumn sage (Salvia greggii), and is such a heavy insect that the blossoms sometimes fell to the ground.
Signature: Ellen

American Bumble Bee

Hi Ellen,
We always love getting images from you, and it is distressing that this is the first Bumble Bee you have seen in your garden in 18 years.  We believe, based on the nice graphics on the Texas Parks and Wildlife Bumble Bee Identification page that it is the American Bumble Bee.  According to BugGuide:  “Has declined severely at the northern margin of its range, where now absent from or at best very rare at many historical localities, but still routinely found in its core range to the south as evidenced by the many Bugguide images. considered by Louisiana and Texas to be a “Species of Greatest Conservation Need” (SGCN).”

American Bumble Bee
Thank you so much for the identification! I’ll plant more Autumn Sage around the perimeter of the yard in September as it’s so favored by the Bumble Bee and other insect pollinators and hummingbirds. Best wishes to you both!
American Bumble Bee

Letter 5 – Brown Belted Bumble Bee

Bumblebee, (Bombus griseocollis)
July 25, 2009
Sent this photo to buguide. He was Identified as a Bombus griseocollis, male.
Terry Sincheff
Mound, MN

Brown Belted Bumble Bee
Brown Belted Bumble Bee

Hi again Terry,
Thanks for sending us your photo of a Brown Belted Bumble Bee, Bombus griseocollis.  We are linking to the BugGuide information page on the species.

Brown Belted Bumble Bee
Brown Belted Bumble Bee

Letter 6 – Brown-Belted Bumble Bee

Subject: cannot even decide what family…
Location: prairie 5 miles from foothills, Longmont CO
July 5, 2017 9:44 am
This large (3/4 inch) insect began flying into our garage regularly in June, emitting such an awful buzz that it sounded very like a UAS (drone). It came every day, circled around until it found its favorite niche (dark corner under steps to house proper) and then went quiet for a while. We thought it might be laying eggs. Not sure how to feel about that! We live in the country near Longmont CO. Any clues?
Signature: Linda

Brown-Belted Bumble Bee

Dear Linda,
This is a beneficial, native Bumble Bee, and of all the species pictured on the Color Guide to Colorado Bees on the Applewood Seed website, we believe it most resembles the Brown-Belted Bumble Bee,
Bombus griseocollis.  According to BugGuide:  “After B. impatiens often the second most commonly encountered bumble bee at many sites in the eastern United States. However, it becomes relatively scarce northwards, as at Ithaca.”   There are some very nice images on Discover Life

Letter 7 – Bumble Bee

Bumble Bee Pic
Here’s a cute bumble bee picture for you. I don’t know what this flower is in my backyard but it attracts so many different bugs & I try to snap pics of them when I can. You’ve previously posted a cranefly pic I took on one of these flowers too. Thx, & again, your site is real cool.
Cindy
Ajax, ON CANADA

Hi Again Cindy,
We can’t believe we have not had a good Bumble Bee photo on our site until your submission.

Letter 8 – Bumble Bee

bombus flavifrons dimidiatus?
August 20, 2009
Found at 5700′ elevation in Jet Creek, above the W fork of the Methow R, in Washington’s Pasayten Wilderness
Tvashtar
5700′, Pasayten Wilderness, WA

Bumble Bee
Bumble Bee

Hi again Tvashtar,
BugGuide does not picture the subspecies dimidiatus, but we believe your ID of Bombus flavifrons might be correct.  Perhaps a Bumble Bee specialist will write in to confirm or deny.  At any rate, it is a gorgeous photo.

Letter 9 – Bumble Bee

Yellow and Orange coloured Bee
January 19, 2010
Hi bugman!
My name is Kyunghwa and I found a cool looking bug today at school. I was walking down the road on UBC campus and found the bug on the street. He was crawling around but didn’t really move much (he had wings but didn’t fly) so I picked him up and put him in my cup and brought him home. (now he’s back to the nature since I didn’t know what kind of food I could provide him. I had him for about 5 hours with me.) I named him “Boong Boong”. I just want to know what kind of bug my Boong Boong was so I can remember him correctly. Thank you!
usual way.
University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC Canada

Bumble Bee

Dear Kyunghwa,
This is one of the Bumblebees in the subgenus Pyrobombus which is recognized on BugGuide.  They are sometimes called Red Tailed Bumble Bees, but that name generally refers to the Eurasian species Bombus lapidarius.  Some possible species might be Bombus bifarius, Bombus huntii, and Bombus melanopygus,  all of which are found in your area.

Bumble Bee

Letter 10 – Bumble Bee

Location: Andover, NJ, backyard
May 26, 2013 11:04 am
Hi BugGuy,
Hoping you can help me out with this bee. I live in northern NJ and saw this small bee today on my chive blossoms. There was also a carpenter bee on the blossoms, and this bee was roughly 1/2 the size of the carpenter, or about 1/2 inch (est). I’ve tried to find an ID for it and the closest I can come is that it may be some sort of digger bee?
Any help would be gratefully appreciated!
Signature: Deborah Bifulco

Bumble Bee
Bumble Bee

Dear Deborah,
In our opinion, this looks like a Bumble Bee in the genus
Bombus.  We often find identifying Bumble Bees to the species level to be a challenge, but you can try browsing the images on BugGuide for possibilities.

Bumble Bee
Bumble Bee

Letter 11 – Bumble Bee

Subject: Bumble on a Prickly Pear Cactus Flower (Little Saint Simons Island, GA)
Location: Little Saint Simons Island, Georgia
June 25, 2014 6:12 pm
Hello Bugman,
I was on my honeymoon at the end of May on Little Saint Simons Island, Georgia. What an amazing place! While bicycling to the beach, I noticed this bumble noshing on the prickly pear cactus flowers. I am thinking that it is a queen bumblebee because of its size? Given the diversity of bee species in the US, I have no idea the exact species of this critter but am hoping that you do! By the way, on our way from Long Island New York (where I live) to Little Saint Simons, we stopped at Chincoteague Island, Virginia. I bought your new book at the National Wildlife Refuge Visitors Center. A great read!
Thanks,
Laura
Signature: Laura klahre

Bumble Bee
Bumble Bee

Dear Laura,
According to BugGuide, there are 46 species of Bumble Bees north of Mexico, and we are not certain of the exact identity of your Bumble Bee.  Thanks for letting us know about finding The Curious World of Bugs at the National Wildlife Refuge Visitors Center in Virginia.  We are happy you enjoyed it.

Bumble Bee
Bumble Bee

Letter 12 – Bumble Bee

Subject: Bumble Bee?
Location: Manchester, CT.
January 27, 2016 6:45 pm
Dear Bugman,
I took this shot in 2007 in Manchester, CT., First question is, is this a Bumble Bee? and what is the yellow on it’s back leg? Is this a part of the bee? or maybe pollen it’s collecting? I’ve seen many similar bees, but not the yellow ? on the leg. Is it common?
Signature: buzz

Bumble Bee
Bumble Bee

Dear buzz,
This is a Bumble Bee, and that is a full pollen basket on the hind leg.  Female Bumble Bees gather pollen when they are nesting to provide food for her developing brood.  It is likely that Bumble Bees are not as common as they once were in parts of their range.  BugGuide has the following information on when to sight Bumble Bees:  “Mated, overwintered Queens emerge from their hibernacula in very early-late spring, depending on the species. Workers emerge in late spring-early summer after which they build in numbers, and persist until late summer-late fall depending on the species. Virgin queens and males appear in summer-fall, depending on the species, and visit flowers at that time along with foraging workers. At the end of the season workers and males die and mated queens enter their hibernacula where they remain dormant until spring. In warm areas such as southern California and south Florida bumble bees can be found flying even in mid-winter.”

Letter 13 – Bumble Bee

Subject: Huge Yellow Bumble Bee
Location: Gilbert AZ
December 14, 2016 7:56 am
I think this might be a Northern Bumble bee, but am not sure, it is huge, at least one inch long , please let me know if I am correct , I have found this bee in Gilbert AZ
Signature: Frances

Bumble Bee
Bumble Bee

Dear Frances,
Our money is on this being a Sonoran Bumble Bee,
Bombus sonorus, which is pictured on BugGuide.

Thank you so much ! Daniel !  I like to know what I have photographed , and that was a quick reply !  Frances

Letter 14 – Bumble Bee Carnage: Dead Because it was Flying Around and Buzzing Loudly

Subject: Furry large fly?
Location: Washington state
May 18, 2017 6:34 pm
This bug circles people really fast, especially hiking in Seattle area, spring through summer. No interest in dog or horse. Hasn’t tried to bite me just circles like crazy. Really loud buzzing, size of a nickel. Sometimes the body is yellow instead of orange. Super fuzzy body. What attracts it, seems like scented deodorants? Hair shampoo? I just want it to let me be.
Signature: Make it stop!

Bumble Bee Carnage

Dear Make it stop!,
We cannot, but you obviously did.  This appears to be a beneficial native Bumble Bee, perhaps the Hunt’s Bumble Bee that is pictured on BugGuide, and it appears to be very dead.  By your own admission, it does not bother dogs nor horses, and it seems the worst thing you can accuse it of is of buzzing really loud and flying in circles.  We have no choice but to tag this as Unnecessary Carnage and we would strongly urge you to refrain from hiking if you can’t deal with the wildlife.

Facebook Comment from Cindy
This might very well be a troll. Even if it isn’t, yes that’s a horrible thing to do. Poor Bee. 🙁

Facebook Comment from Heather
What kind of a**hole kills a bumblebee?

Letter 15 – Bumble Bee from Peru

Subject:  Voluptuous Bee doing Yoga
Geographic location of the bug:  Alin, Calca, Peru
Date: 10/28/2019
Time: 02:00 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  Dear Bugman,
During an am yoga practice this beautiful bee was sharing props with me. It appeared to love the strap! It was difficult to get a photo with out disturbing too much. The individual was shortly released.
How you want your letter signed:  Melanie on the Irish Chain

Bumble Bee

Dear Melanie,
This is a Bumble Bee in the genus
Bombus, but we do not recognize the species.  Perhaps Cesar Crash from Brazil will recognize the species.  According to BugGuide, the preferred habitat for Bumble Bees is:  “Generally distributed but most abundant and diverse at humid, cool sites rich in flowers, such as mountain meadows.”

Letter 16 – Bumble Bee from Serbia

Subject: European Bumblebee
Location: Belgrade, Serbia
May 23, 2012 3:26 pm
Dear Bugman,
I am trying to distinguish this bee: Is it a white-tailed bumblebee or a buff-tailed bumblebee? I photographed it in my driveway last weekend in Belgrade, Serbia.
Thank you!
Signature: Bill Kralovec

Bumble Bee from Serbia

Dear Bill,
Thanks for sending in your request.  Bumblebee.org indicates:  “The queens Bombus terrestris and B. lucorum are usually the first to emerge in the spring. B. terrestris queens are the largest bumblebees we have in the UK. It is fairly easy to differentiate between B. terrestris and B. lucorum queens –  the yellow thorax hairs of terrestris are more dull orangey while those of lucorum are more lemony [.]  B. terrestris has a brownish orange tip to her abdomen while B. lucorum’s is white – hence the common names.”  
Bumblebee.org also indicates:  “The workers of both species look like smaller versions of the lucorum queen. See the worker on the left. They are almost impossible to tell apart without dissection. The size range can vary quite a lot, but usually the smaller workers are from the earliest laid eggs. Bombus lucorum workers range from 0.04 – 0.32 g and the queens from 0.46 – 0.70 g; B. terrestris workers range from 0.05 g – 0.40 g.”  Our guess is that this is a queen White-Tailed Bumble Bee.  We are basing that on the information provided on the website we cited.  The early emergence and large size would indicate the bee is a queen.  Though many internet references use a single word Bumblebee, we are following the naming convention used on BugGuide.

Letter 17 – Bumble Bee: Mating aggregation

Bug Love Frenzy! And a Little Hitchhiker!
I just went out again to check on the bumblebees and a number of others have joined in the fun!
Can you let me know what the little hitchhiker is on the highest bumblebee?
Thanks,
Roberta
Andover, MA

Bumble Bee mating frenzy
Bumble Bee mating frenzy

Bumblebee Love
I thought you would enjoy this picture of the “bumblebee love gathering” in my garden. I always thought bees mated in the air so I was very surprised to see this in my garden today 🙂
Roberta
Andover, MA

Bumble Bees Mating
Bumble Bees Mating

Hi Roberta,
After sifting through all the Bumble Bees in the genus Bombus posted on BugGuide, and all the identification drawings on the Bumblebees of North America website, we don’t feel confident enough to give you an exact species identification.  Perhaps one of our readers can assist in this matter.  We are curious about this group mating behavior.  The detail on your photo is not sufficient for us to identify the small fly hitch-hiking on the top Bee.

Daniel:
The bumble bee mating behavior is typical of many ground-nesting bees.  Virgin queens are a hot commodity, so males flock to them and compete for an opportunity to mate.
I can’t make out what the fly is, either, but it might be a “no-see-um,” family Ceratopogonidae, most species of which do not feed on people, but suck the blood of other insects.
Eric Eaton

Letter 18 – Bumble Bee Scarab from Israel

Hairy Beetle in my wild tulip
Location: Israel, near Modiin
March 16, 2011 3:22 pm
I saw this beetle yesterday in the tulip, covered with pollen. Today it was back again, but only with a light sprinkling of pollen, and almost all the pollen in the tulip had gone. Today I got the camera out. The second photo I call ”hairy beetle doing a headstand…” It obviously does a good job in pollenation of the wild tulips in the area… I did not know there was such a thing as hairy beetles.
Signature: Judith C

Bumble Bee Scarab

Hi Judith,
We really love your photos of what we believe to be a Bumble Bee Scarab Beetle in the family Glaphyridae pollinating the tulip.  The Scarabs of the Levant website states:  “Glaphyrid beetles are active fliers during the day. Adults of many species are brightly colored and hairy and often possess markings and coloration resembling bees and bumblebees. They are strong fliers and are often observed hovering near flowers or foliage or flying over sandy areas.”

Letter 19 – Bumble Bees

help with bees
I took these pictures of some kind of bees that ruined several of my plants last summer. I think one must be the queen, judging from the relative sizes. They burrow large caverns under clumps of plants (especially thyme) and the plant above dies. Do you know of any way to discourage them this year? By the way, we live in NE Pennsylvania.

These are Bumble Bees and they do make underground chambers. We are surprised to hear that their little hive has killed your plants. we have no suggestions.

Letter 20 – Bumble Bees in Compost Bin

Subject: Bees in Compost!!
Location: Calgary, AB, Canada
July 9, 2014 8:28 pm
Hello!!! I’m in Calgary, AB, Canada and have had some bees move into the compost in my backyard. It’s now mid July and I noticed them about a week ago, but I have no idea how long they have been there. I’m honestly curious to learn as much about them as I can. They don’t appear aggressive, and I know bees are on the decline. The compost is a large plastic bin which at this time only has grass clippings in it. They are all old, dead grass clippings from last year so are more straw-like in consistency. It has a lid and is closed and dark.
I apologize that the pic is a bit blurry, please let me know if you need a clearer one (That was terrifying, I stayed pretty far away and used a great deal of zoom lol)
Signature: Thank You So Much! Elena

Bumble Bee
Bumble Bee

Hi Elena,
This is a native Bumble Bee and we have gotten other reports of Bumble Bees nesting in compost piles, birdhouses and other man-made refuges.  Bumble Bees are not aggressive, but they are capable of stinging.  The bees getting all the publicity lately because of Colony Collapse Disorder are domestic Honey Bees.  Honey Bees are domesticated and not native, however, there are wild hives that are formed when new queens create new colonies in chimneys, hollow trees and other protected locations.

Thank you so much for your prompt reply! Let the research commense!

Letter 21 – Bees do it!!!

WHAT’S THE BUZZ??PAIR OF BUMBLE BEES MATING??
Hey Bugman!!
I came across this pair of bumblebees in my driveway..they definitely appeared to be making LITTLE BABY BUMBLEBEES. They were there for 3 hours..when I checked on them a few minutes ago..they..were GONE….apparently they flew off into the wild blue yonder. Happy Buggin’..or should I say..BUZZIN’!!
Dee Rocanello
East Islip, Long Island, NY

Hi Dee,
Thanks for the contribution.

Letter 22 – Brown Belted Bumble Bee

Subject: Is this a Bombus affinis?
Location: Massachusetts USA
August 11, 2017 7:18 am
Is this bumblebee feeding on a milkweed plant in Massachusetts a Bombus affinis?
Thankyou!!
Rob S
Signature: Rob

Brown Belted Bumble Bee

Dear Rob,
This does indeed look like a Rusty-Patched Bumble Bee, a species represented on BugGuide with sightings in the midwest, though BugGuide does state:  “MN to IN, plus a few remaining sites on east coast, see map per Xerces Society. Formerly Upper Midwest and Eastern North America: Ontario to New Brunswick, south to North Carolina. Historically known from more than 25 states.”  BugGuide also provides this sobering information:  “Declines of this species were first noted by John S. Ascher at Ithaca, New York, ca. 2001 when populations that were conspicuous in the late 1990s could not be located. At this and many other localities across its historic range affinis is no longer detected, but it has been shown to persist locally in the midwest and in New England.  Abrupt and severe declines of this and other bumble bee species in this subgenus were widely reported soon after development of the commercial bumble bee industry and detection of high rates of parasitism in managed colonies.  U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced (Sept. 21, 2016) that it is proposing to list the rusty patched bumble bee as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act.”  According to the Xerces Society:  “The rusty patched bumble bee is a species of bumble bee native to eastern North America. Its’ workers and males have a small rust-colored patch on the middle of their second abdominal segment. This bee was once commonly distributed throughout the east and upper Midwest of the United States, but has declined from an estimated 87% of its historic range in recent years. The rusty-patched bumble bee was once an excellent pollinator of wildflowers, cranberries, and other important crops, including plum, apple, alfalfa and onion seed.  Responding to a petition filed by the Xerces Society in 2013 to list the rusty patched bumble bee as an endangered species under the US Endangered Species Act (ESA), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) finalized the ruling and gave the rusty patched bumble bee endangered status under the ESA in January of 2017.”  If your identification and our confirmation are correct, you might want to report your significant Massachusetts sighting to the Bumble Bee Watch as recommended by the Xerces Society Citizen Science program.

Thank you very much Daniel!

Update:  December 12, 2019
We just received a comment from Chris Smith that this is actually “a male
Bombus griseocollis” a Brown Belted Bumble Bee.  Here is a link to BugGuide where it states:  “Diagnostic characters include black wings, black head, low position of ocelli, short dense hairs on thorax, and belt of contrasting brown hairs at base of T2. Males have large eyes. See detailed description of queen and male at discoverlife.org  Tongue length: medium.”

Letter 23 – Bug of the Month May 2021: Probably Common Eastern Bumble Bee

Subject:  Bumble Bee
Geographic location of the bug:  Campbell, Ohio
Date: 05/02/2021
Time: 10:26 AM EDT
Daniel is currently in Ohio and he has limited resources since he cannot use photoshop to crop, color correct or resize images, but while working in the garden yesterday, he could not help but to notice this lovely, large Bumble Bee visiting the plentiful dandelions.

Probably Common Eastern Bumble Bee

We believe this is most likely the Common Eastern Bumble Bee, which is pictured on BugGuide, and due to her size, we believe she is a queen.

Probably Common Eastern Bumble Bee
Probably Common Eastern Bumble Bee

Authors

    by
  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

9 thoughts on “Bumble Bee: All You Need to Know in a Quick Guide”

  1. I have had bumblebees in bird nesting boxes twice in the last several years. One in a bluebird nesting box and the other just this week in a Great Crested Flycatcher box that had an old tufted titmouse nest still in the box from last year. The other box had an old chickadee nest and both these birds have a mossy nest. The bees love the mossy nest it seems to be irresistible to them. I leave them alone when I find them as bees are so important to the world’s food supply. In some places the bee population is declining and this could be a way to help bring it back…..like we have done for the bluebirds.

    Reply
    • Perhaps the houses should be advertised as the “Birds and Bees Houses” and the tenants can be used to teach the facts of life to youngsters. Bee hives are households without males.

      Reply
  2. had an active chickadee pair nesting in one of my bird houses. Full next 5 eggs then for about a week no action, looked inside today, cold eggs still there and nest looked ok so started poking around and don’t i get stung! Only one Bumble Bee nesting in nesting material? Do you think Bee scared off my chickadee pair?

    Reply
    • yes the bee harassed them until they gave up! same happened to my pair that laid one egg. i saw them chasing the bee away many times before they gave up… bee would not give up even after i chased it away! poor chickadees! i bought another house i am hoping they will try again. in mean time i am now watching bee go in and out of the house. do not know what to expect once there are more hatching!

      Reply
  3. Wings are too dark for a brown belt. And too much yellow on the abdomen. I would try posting to BugGuide for identification. Interesting bumble for sure!

    Reply

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