How Long Do Bumble Bees Live? Uncovering the Secrets of Their Lifespan

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Bumble bees are fascinating creatures that play a crucial role in pollinating our plants.

While many people might consider the general life cycle of bees, understanding specifically how long bumble bees live can offer valuable insights into their biology and their impact on our ecosystems.

How Long Do Bumble Bees Live
Red Tailed Bumble Bee

The life span of a bumble bee depends on its role within the colony. Worker bees, for example, live anywhere from a few weeks to several months, while queens can live for up to a year.

Differing from honeybees, bumble bees have a distinct life cycle and biology which further emphasizes their unique contributions to our environment.

Bumble Bee Lifespan

Factors Affecting Lifespan

Bumble bees have different lifespans based on various factors:

  • Caste
  • Environmental conditions
  • Food availability
  • Predation
  • Diseases

For instance, exposure to pesticides and habitat loss can shorten their lifespan. In addition, non-native bee species can introduce diseases that affect bumble bees’ longevity. Climate change also plays a role in their survival.

How Long Do Bumble Bees Live? Lifespan of Different Castes

Bumble bees consist of three primary castes: queens, workers, and males. Each of these castes has a different lifespan:

  • Queens: Generally live for one year. They emerge in the spring, mate, and then hibernate during winter. In the following spring, they establish new colonies.
  • Workers: Smaller, female bees that only live for a few weeks to a few months. Their primary roles include collecting food and caring for the colony.
  • Males: Also known as drones, have a lifespan similar to workers. They primarily focus on mating with new queens before dying.
Hunt’s Bumble Bee, we believe

Here’s a comparison table illustrating the differences in the lifespans of the different bumble bee castes:

Caste Lifespan Main Purpose
Queens Around 1 year Founding new colonies
Workers Few weeks to few months Colony maintenance and gathering food
Males Few weeks to few months Mating

The differences in bumble bees’ lifespans demonstrate the adaptations and unique roles of each caste within the colony.

By understanding the factors that affect their lives and the distinctions between the castes, we can better appreciate the importance of bumble bees in our environment.

Life Cycle of Bumble Bees

Egg

Bumble bee queens lay fertilized eggs that hatch into larvae. Eggs are laid in small clusters, usually inside an insulated nest in the ground or other concealed spaces. For example:

Larva

Larvae are grub-like, and they feed on pollen and nectar collected by adult bumble bees. The queen and worker bumble bees care for the larvae until they’re ready to pupate.

Pupa

Once larvae have grown and fed sufficiently, they spin a cocoon where they transform into adult bumble bees. This metamorphosis process is called pupation.

American Bumble Bee

Metamorphosis into Adult Bumble Bees

Inside the cocoon, the developing bumble bees undergo a complete transformation. They grow wings, legs, and other adult features, finally emerging as fully-formed bumble bees.

Mating and Reproduction

Female bumble bees consist of the queen and worker bees, while the males are called drones. Mating typically takes place during the bumble bee’s annual lifecycle. Here are some key points:

  • The queen bumble bee mates early in her lifecycle, often with multiple male bumble bees to increase genetic diversity.
  • Fertilized queens overwinter, while male drones and worker bumble bees die off at the end of the season.

Comparison Table

Stage Description
Egg Laid by queen bumble bee in small clusters inside insulated nests
Larva Grub-like, fed on pollen and nectar collected by adult bumble bees
Pupa Develops inside a cocoon where metamorphosis takes place
Adult Bumble Bee Emerges from cocoon with fully-formed wings, legs, and other features
Mating Queen bumble bee mates with multiple male drones early in the lifecycle and then overwinters

Roles and Social Structure

Queens

  • Lifespan: Queens typically live for up to one year in most species of bumble bees1.
  • Role: The queen bee is responsible for starting a new colony by laying eggs and taking care of the young until worker bees emerge.

Queens emerge from hibernation in early spring to find a suitable nesting site. Once located, they will collect nectar and pollen to create a small wax pot2, which will serve as food for the first brood.

Workers

  • Lifespan: Worker bees have a shorter lifespan of 2-6 weeks3.
  • Role: Workers are female bees responsible for collecting food, defending the nest, and taking care of the young.

Workers are not capable of reproducing4, focusing solely on supporting the colony. The tasks they perform depend on their age: younger workers tend to care for the young and maintain the nest, while older workers forage for food5.

Males

  • Lifespan: Male bees live for a few weeks, just enough time to mate.
  • Role: Males, also known as drones, are responsible for mating with queens from other colonies.

Male bees emerge later in the season and leave their birth colony to search for a receptive queen6. They do not partake in gathering food or defending the nest.

Caste Lifespan Responsibilities
Queens Up to 1 year Laying eggs, colony foundation, colony care
Workers 2-6 weeks Food foraging, nest defense, young care
Males A few weeks Mating

Bumblebee Moth

Foraging and Pollination

Diet and Food Resources

Bumblebees primarily feed on nectar and pollen from various flowering plants. They play a significant role as pollinators in both wild ecosystems and managed gardens.

The diet of bumblebees depends on the availability of native plants in their environment. Some examples of plants bumblebees forage on include:

  • Alfalfa
  • Clover
  • Onions

Pollination Techniques

Bumblebees use different pollination techniques to collect nectar and pollen from flowers. They often use their long tongues to reach nectar in tubular flowers.

They also use their legs to collect pollen, storing it in their pollen baskets on the hind legs.

One unique technique employed by bumblebees is buzz pollination.

Buzz Pollination

Buzz pollination, also called sonication, is a method used by bumblebees to release pollen from certain flowers by vibrating their wings rapidly.

This process helps the bee dislodge pollen trapped within the flower’s structures, making it easier to collect and transport.

Comparison Table:

Pollinator Foraging Techniques Plant Preferences
Bumblebees Buzz Pollination Alfalfa, Clover, Onions
Birds Beak and Feet Tubular flowers
Butterflies Proboscis Nectar-rich flowers
Bumble Bee

Threats and Conservation

Habitat Loss and Climate Change

Bumble bees are facing threats due to habitat loss and climate change. Habitat loss occurs when land development, agriculture, and urbanization destroy their natural environments.

As a result, they have fewer places to nest, forage, and find food. Climate change also impacts bumble bees by altering the timing of flower blooming or disrupting their life cycles, further limiting their access to food sources.

For example, in North America, the endangered rusty patched bumble bee is struggling with habitat loss and climate change.

Pesticides and Diseases

Another significant threat to bumble bees is the use of pesticides, specifically neonicotinoids.

These chemicals can weaken bumble bee colonies by altering their behaviors, reducing their ability to reproduce, and even causing death.

Diseases, including those transmitted by invasive species, can rapidly spread within a colony, decimating bumble bee populations.

Examples of pesticides and diseases include:

  • Neonicotinoids: a class of pesticides known for its negative effects on bees
  • Disease: pathogenic infections that can spread between bees and colonies

Efforts to Protect Bumble Bees

Conservation efforts aim to safeguard bumble bee populations and their habitats. By creating and maintaining suitable environments, we can provide safe havens for these vital pollinators.

Additionally, reducing pesticide use and monitoring diseases can help protect bumble bees from further decline.

Protection efforts include:

  • Habitat restoration: preserving and enhancing environments for bumble bees
  • Pesticide regulation: limiting the use of harmful chemicals to protect bee populations
  • Disease monitoring: tracking and controlling the spread of illnesses affecting bees

Comparison Table

Threat Example Conservation Effort
Habitat Loss and Climate Change Urbanization, altered flower blooming Habitat restoration
Pesticides Neonicotinoids Pesticide regulation
Diseases Infections spread between bees Disease monitoring

By addressing these threats, we can support bumble bee populations and the ecosystems that rely on them.

Conclusion

Bumble bees, with their distinct life cycles and roles, are invaluable contributors to our ecosystems through their pollination efforts.

Their lifespan, influenced by caste and environmental factors, underscores their vulnerability to threats like habitat loss, pesticides, and climate change.

As these pollinators face increasing challenges, understanding their biology, behavior, and the factors affecting their longevity becomes paramount.

By championing conservation efforts, we can ensure the survival of these remarkable insects and the ecosystems they support.

Footnotes

  1. The Bumble Bee Lifestyle – Penn State Extension
  2. Life Cycle and Biology – Bumble Bees of Wisconsin – UW-Madison
  3. The Bumble Bee Lifestyle – Penn State Extension
  4. Honey Bees, Bumble Bees, Carpenter Bees and Sweat Bees
  5. The Bumble Bee Lifestyle – Penn State Extension
  6. The Bumble Bee Lifestyle – Penn State Extension

Reader Emails

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

Letter 1 – Yellow Faced Bumble Bee

black & yellow winged . . . ???
I found this little guy [girl?] outside on the walk. Seems to be ailing or injured as it has barely moved in a day. Besides the yellow on the head, it has a yellow stripe across his butt. Interesting fuzzy legs that have little hooked ends.
Mike Armstrong
San Diego area

Hi Mike,
This is a Yellow Faced Bumble Bee, Bombus vosnesenskii. BugGuide has some additional photos, but not much information.

Letter 2 – Why is the Male Bumble Bee Wingless???

Subject: Velvet Ant, Wingless Butterfly?
Location: Central Nebraska
September 8, 2015 7:08 am
A colleague of mine snapped this photo in a Central Nebraska field – not sure what it is. Shows some similarities to velvet ants – but I have never seen this species if it is one and I have never seen one this “hairy”. Someone else suggested that it may be a butterfly without wings – not sure how that would happen.
Signature: T. J. Walker

Wingless Male Bumblebee
Wingless Male Bumble Bee

Dear T.J.,
We didn’t have enough time to do any research this morning, and even posting took too much time.  We did manage to write the following to Eric Eaton:  “Hi Eric,  This looks like a wingless Hymenopteran, but it doesn’t look like any Velvet Ant I have seen.  Except for the antennae, it looks vaguely moth like.  Thoughts?  It is from Nebraska.  Daniel”

Wingless Male Bumbleb  Bee
Daniel:
It is a male bumble bee that may not have developed wings during the pupa stage.  Been getting a few reports of this in paper wasps, first one I’ve seen for a bumble bee.
Eric

So T.J., an identification isn’t enough for us.  We want to know how to tell a male Bumble Bee from a female, and we suspect the antennae play a big part.  We are curious if not having wings will prevent this male from mating because we know Bees mate in the air. 

We believe, like the Luna Moth image we just posted, that your Bumble Bee will not produce progeny.  We want to know if the winglessness is a genetic mutation, the result of some trauma to the developing Bee, or something entirely unexpected.

Daniel, thanks.
Would not have gotten to that identification.  Don’t know if I have seen a gray and white bumblebee.
I have CC’d the photographer, Ben Wheeler.
Ben, see below.
T. J. Walker

Letter 3 – Art Gallery dedicated to Bees in Art

Bees in Art
December 13, 2009
Dear Sir or Madam,
May I draw your attention to Bees in Art ( http://beesinart.com ), a brand new gallery devoted to art inspired by bees. Please find enclosed a press release below.
If you would like to exchange website links then please let me know, I would be very happy to do so.
I would be delighted to hear from you,
Yours sincerely,
Andrew Tyzack

The World’s First Art Gallery Devoted to Bees
Bees In Art: The world’s first art gallery devoted to Beekeeping, Honeybees and Bumblebees depicted in art.
East Yorkshire, UK – Internet based ‘Bees in Art’ Gallery exhibits artwork by leading artists whose fascination with beekeeping, bees and other Hymenoptera has inspired them.
Bees in Art is curated by Royal College of Art graduates Andrew Tyzack and Debbie Grice.
We exhibit and sell important artworks by contemporary artists: Robert Gillmor and David Koster as well as works by past masters: Graham Sutherland. They deal with all art forms. The gallery is based online and has generated much interest globally.

Beekeeping and Bees are an immensely important part of our ecosystem. For the first time, their fantastic life cycle is celebrated through art.
Andrew, ‘Bees in Art’ founder, is a graduate of the Royal College of Art and a third generation beekeeper. He keeps several beehives in the East Riding of Yorkshire, UK.

His earliest memory of beekeeping was helping his grandfather capture a wild colony of bees, established in the wall of a wooden hut: “in the smoky gloom Grandad gently took away the inner wall and there were the bees populating beeswax combs. Because the hut was gloomy and Grandad was gentle, the bees just carried on with their lives. We weren’t wearing any protective clothing at all, but I felt safe.

Their doorway was where a knot had fallen out of a plank, but once we had captured the queen the colony was ours.”. Early inspiration came from a boyhood curiosity for all things natural, and from the artists, writers, poets and dancers, such as the sculptor Andy Goldsworthy and the poet Liz Lochead, who were visitors to his home.

Now bees and beekeeping are the central themes of his work. Andrew’s beekeeping c an be followed using Twitter as well as through his facebook page.
Debbie Grice, co-founder, is an award winning artist and graduate of the Royal College of Art. Married to Andrew Tyzack she is the ‘beekeepers wife’, jarring honey and creating the beautiful labels for the jars.

Winner of the Folio Society Illustration Award 1998, Debbie produces evocative mezzotint engravings of apiaries. She is also a qualified pilot and is featured in a Wellcome Trust Community TV production.

‘The Land Gallery’ is Bees in Art’s sister gallery and specialises in wildlife art with a special dedication to studying wildlife in the field. The Land Gallery has been featured in BBC TV, BBC Radio, Country Living Magazine, Yorkshire Post and numerous local society publications and newspapers.

Update
January 6, 2009
Dear Daniel,
Our statistics show visitors via your link to our gallery arriving every day. Thanks. I have just added a link to What’s that Bug? To be uploaded later today. We will shortly have a dedicated links page, but our current links are easily found in our news page.
Kind regards,
Andrew Tyzack
Andrew and Debbie Tyzack
Directors of The Land Gallery
Tel: 01430 810239
E mail: contactus@thelandgallery.com
Web site: http://www.thelandgallery.com

Letter 4 – Bee Ball: What are those Miner Bees doing???

southeast Arizona, bees
The bees in the attached photos were observed this morning (late September) at Whitewater Draw in extreme southeast Arizona. They were extremely numerous (perhaps in the 100s), and spent their entire time buzzing low over the sandy bare ground, occasionally dropping to enter small holes, occasionally coming together into roiling balls of bees such as those in the images.

The animals were dusty gray, quite fuzzy in appearance, each about 1 cm long. Several other species of hymenopterans, including velvet ants and other bees, were also present. Can you tell us what these bees are and what on earth they were doing? Many thanks,
Rick Wright
Editor, Winging It
Department Editor, Birding

Hi Rick,
We suspect these are some species of Mining Bee in the family Andrenidae, and perhaps their Bee Ball has something to do with mating. We will check with Eric Eaton to get his input. Here is what Eric had to say:

“The bees visible in that image are all males, vying for th opportunity to mate with a female that has yet to emerge from a burrow. Virgins are a hot commodity in the animal kingdom:-) I am not sure of the species or genus. If this image was taken in the spring, I’d say Centris pallida. “

Letter 5 – Bees

Hello!
I have a lot of green flies that live in the ground. They have many holes , in the sand of my flagstone path, that they go in and out of of the holes all day, more so in the morning.

They have bright green bodies, it looks like they are collecting pollen because some have a lot of yellow powder on there back legs. They are not causing any problems they are actually really fun to watch I just wanted to know what they are doing in there underground world.
Thanks !
Lesha Bertolucci
Petaluma, CA

Dear Lesha,
Metallic Sweat Bees Agapostemon and Augochlorella species, have bright, usually green bodies and nest in the ground, digging tubular burrows. they are called Sweat Bees since they are often attracted by human perspiration. They do pollinate flowers.

Letter 6 – Bees in Art has a new website design

Bees in Art has a new homepage
December 9, 2010
Bees in Art has a new homepage: please take a look: www.beesinart.com
Kind regards,
Andrew & Debbie

Dear Andrew & Debbie,
We checked our archive and the link you provided us then is still working properly.  Thanks for informing our readership that you have redesigned the website.

Letter 7 – Black Bee

Subject:  Unknown Black Bee visits Wisteria
Location:  Mount Washington, Los Angeles, California
June 6, 2017 7 PM
While we were away from the office, the potted wisteria did not get watered enough and it dropped all its leaves, forcing it into an unseasonal bloom cycle.  Late in the afternoon, this little black Bee visited the plant.  It is half the size of a female Carpenter Bee, and try though we might, we could not match it to any Bumble Bee or other Bee on BugGuide.  The identity of this little Black Bee is unknown.

Unknown Black Bee
Potted Wisteria

Letter 8 – Eucerini Bee

?
Hello friends,
Hope all is well with you today. I have a bug to identify. We went up to Mineral King in the Sequoias (California) last year and saw this bee (?) on what looks like a thistle plant. We were at about 8000 feet on the way to the top. A really good looking bug I think. Can you id this one.
Thanks,
Gene

Hi Gene,
We wrote to Eric Eaton for an identification. Here is his response: ” Yes, a male eucerini bee (family Apidae, but formerly in Anthophoridae). If pretty early in the spring: Synhalonia. If later, Melissodes or something closely related.”

Letter 9 – Fuzzy Footed Bee from Oregon

some sort of bee
Location: Johnson Prairie, Southern Oregon
April 20, 2012 11:18 am
This came inside the camper and I got it out once and then it came back again, so I took its picture. Only saw one and cannot find an ID on it.
Thank you for this great website!
Signature: Leslie

What’s That Bee?:  Anthophora species

Dear Leslie,
We are having difficulty identifying your bee which we suspect is a Bumble Bee.  The long hairs on the legs are an interesting feature that we have not been able to match with a photo on BugGuide

We suspect this might not be a Bumble Bee after all.  We are seeking assistance from Eric Eaton, but perhaps one of our readers will be able to provide a comment as to this Bee’s identity.

Eric Eaton Responds and narrows down the possibilities
Daniel:
It is going to be something related to Anthophora or Habropoda (genera), but I never saw anything like this when I lived in Oregon myself.  You might try John Ascher via Bugguide.net.  I’m betting this is a male specimen, too.
Eric

Thanks Eric,
We will continue to research this critter.

John Ascher Responds
Hi Daniel,
Thanks for sending this query. The bee is a male Anthophora but I’m not certain of the species. Note that Michael Orr of the USDA Bee Lab in Utah is working on this group.
Making IDs for Hymenoptera on What’s That Bug? has been on my to do list for a while, but it’s hard for me to find a free moment (next week I leave for Singapore…).
Best regards,
John

Letter 10 – Homalictus Bee (we believe) in Australia

Flying Burrowing Insect?
Wed, Mar 25, 2009 at 5:25 PM
Hi
Have recently found this insect making nests in the ground in our backyard. I have never seen this insect before and was wondering if you site could help me identify them. They look to be a cross between a small fly and a wasp but they are only about 5mm long.

You can see in one of the photos the holes in the ground where they are burrowing. There are at least 10-15 different holes scattered around where they are coming in and out. They are not any trouble but just wondering what they might be so any help would be fantastic.
Regards Brett Holland
Perth, Western Australia

Homalictus Bee
Homalictus Bee

Dear Brett,
We believe you have a colony of Homalictus Bees.  According to the Which Native Bees Live in Your Area website:  “Although very small (most less than 8 mm long), the glittering Homalictus bees come in a dazzling array of colours. ‘Golden blue’, ‘coppery red’ and ‘green tinged with purple, red or gold’ are just a few of the colours listed by scientists.

Homalictus bees dig intricate branching nests in the ground. Many females may live together in each nest, taking turns to guard the narrow nest entrance. One nest was found to be occupied by over 160 females! ” and “With glints of aqua blue, golden green and orange, these Homalictus bees make a stunning sight! Just 5 mm long , these bees are tiny living gems.”

Homalictus Bee

 

Letter 11 – Native Bees of Hawaii

Native Bee News Story from Maui
June 28, 2010
Aloha Daniel –
Here’s a story from yesterday’s paper for your enjoyment.
http://www.mauinews.com/page/content.detail/id/532853.html?nav=10
Happy summer.
Eliza

Letter 12 – Sleeping Bees

sleeping bee aggregations
Hi Bugman:
I noticed someone sent you a photo of an aggregation of sleeping eucerine bees which were tentatively ID’d as Melissodes. Enclosed is a photo I recently took of an aggregation of sleeping male Svastra obliqua expurgata.
Sandy Shanks
Bohart Museum of Entomology
University of California , Davis

Hi Sandy,
It is wonderful having your expert identification to accompany your wonderful image.

Letter 13 – Unidentified Bee from Portugal

Black and white bee
Location: Portugal
July 6, 2011 4:26 pm
Hi!
I was photographing bumble bees in my garden some days ago when I found this striking black and white bee. I’ve been trying to identify it since then, but I can’t seem to reach any conclusion. Any idea of what it might be?
Thanks in advance!
Signature: Dania

Unknown Bee

Hi Dania,
We don’t know what this Bee is, and we would need to do some research to get an identification.  Sometimes that happens quickly, and other times it is more laborious, and occasionally, we never find an identification. 

Your photos are so lovely we are perfectly content to just post them as unidentified.  We may eventually be able to provide you with an answer, and possibly one of our readers will be able to contribute some information.

Update:  Possible identification
Helen provided us with a comment and a link to a very similar looking Thyreus orbatus.  Here is a BioLib image that also matches.

Letter 14 – Bee and 2 Flies from Peru

Fuzzy Flies and Robot Fly!
Location: Sacred Valley, Peru
March 3, 2011 1:49 pm
Hello! I am in Peru in the Sacred Valley out of Cuzco. I have 2 fuzzy fly specimen I was hoping you could help me identify! I don’t believe they’re the same! I also got lucky with this last shot of a fly who looks like he’s part machine! What are they…offically?
Thanks, WTB team!
Signature: offthegridinperu

Bee, possibly Long-Horned Bee

Dear offthegridinperu,
We are amused that despite being off the grid, you have internet access.  One of your lovely Peruvian insects is not a Fly.  It is a Bee, and we believe it may be a Long-Horned Bee in the tribe Eucerini.  You may compare your photo to some North American Long-Horned Bees posted to BugGuide.

We believe one of your Flies is a Tachinid Fly.  Tachinids are parasitic to a wide variety of insects and they are often quite spiny.  You may use BugGuide to see some examples of North American Tachinids.  Finally, we believe the Fly you compared to a machine may be a Flesh Fly in the family Sarcophagidae, and again, North American species may be found on BugGuide.

Letter 15 – New UK Bee and Wasp Website: http://www.beesnwasps.com

Subject: New Insect Website: Bees and Wasps
Location: UK
October 1, 2012 3:14 pm
Dear bugman,
http://www.beesnwasps.com
I have created a website about bees and wasps to provide information in a fun and informative way. The language is easy to understand yet detailed with rare and unique information, categorised neatly into sections. Overall I have tried to make the website fun and engaging.

It would be fantastic and most appreciated if you were able to list me on your site to share with others. I can add a link to your site if you wish.
Thank you for your time,
Signature: Richard Egan BeesnWasps

Parasitic Wasp

Dear Richard,
We will happily post a link to your Bees and Wasps Website.  Are your submissions from the UK or all around the world?

Hi Daniel,
Thank you so much for the link. My submissions and research are based on UK bee and wasp species.
regards, Richard

Letter 16 – Yellow Faced Bumble Bee

Is this a bee or a beatle?
Thu, Dec 11, 2008 at 4:37 PM
This was on our back deck here in the Seattle area. I thought it was dead because it didn’t move for almost two days. We put it in a jar for my step-son to take to his science teacher to find out, but the bug was lost.
Kamala Plaisted
Bellevue, Washington

Yellow Faced Bumble Bee
Yellow Faced Bumble Bee

Hi Kamala,
We believe this is a Yellow Faced Bumble Bee, Bombus vosnesenskii.  According to BugGuide, it is found in Washington State as well as the rest of the west coast states.

Letter 17 – Yellow Faced Bumble Bee

Subject:  Wazzat bug?
Geographic location of the bug:  Snohomish, WA
Date: 09/04/2017
Time: 04:25 PM EDT
OK, bug guys (&gals!) – whaddizzit?
This bug was crawling around my garage today. At the tender age of 62, I thought I’d seen most of the common creepy-crawlers/flyers. Looks like a type of beetle, but image search and on-line research has not helped.

Lemme know if I have discovered something that was thought to be extinct, and hasn’t been known to fly/crawl them thar parts for millions of years. I’m guessing that’s most probably the case. Surely it is related to some rare dinosaur. Make my day – tell me I’m right! But wait – I let it go free. OH, NO!
How you want your letter signed:  Sandi Ellenwood

Yellow Faced Bumble Bee

Dear Sandi,
This is a Bumble Bee, and according to A Field Guide to Common Puget Sound Native Bees, it appears to be a Yellow Faced Bumble Bee,
Bombus vosnesenskii.  The Arboretum Foundation has a Getting to know our native northwest bees page that also mentions and pictures the Yellow Faced Bumble Bee.  According to BugGuide

“The most abundant and widespread species in cismontane California and generally numerous across the Pacific States at lower elevations.”  We are surprised that your letter indicates you take an interest in “creepy-crawlers” but that you did not recognize a Bumble Bee. 

We are well aware of decreasing populations of both native and domestic Bees, probably due to the wide use of pesticides, which might explain why you have never seen a Bumble Bee in 62 years, but at least they are not yet extinct.

Yellow Faced Bumble Bee

Letter 18 – Yellow Faced Bumble Bee

Subject:  Don’t think it’s Bombus vosnesenskii, so which bumbler is it?
Geographic location of the bug:  Silverdale, WA
Date: 07/12/2018
Time: 12:20 AM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  I originally thought this was Bombus vosnesenskii (Yellow-Faced bumble bee), but all photos representing that particular species shows only one  yellow segment on the abdomen, whereas the one I took the photograph of, shows two.
I tried researching by location and bee color/appearance on discoverlife.org‘s bee identification, but none seem to match. Based upon the appearance of pollen baskets and sparse hairs on the hind legs, I am pretty sure it’s a true bumble been (not a Cuckoo) and a female.
If you are able to help, I’d love your assistance!
Thanks in advance!
How you want your letter signed:  Bug aficionado

Yellow Faced Bumble Bee

Dear Bug Aficionado,
When we first looked at your images, we too began trying to match to BugGuide images of a Bumble Bee with a yellow face as well as two abdominal stripes, but upon reviewing your images, we believe the second yellow band we thought we observed on one of your images is an optical illusion, part of the clover blossom rather than the Bee. 

None of your images clearly shows a second yellow band.  Perhaps you have additional images that show the markings on the abdomen.  Since we cannot clearly see a second band, we are going to call this a Yellow Faced Bumble Bee as the yellow face as well as other markings, including the half black thorax, agree with that species. 

Also, the Yellow Faced Bumble Bee pictured on Hilltromper does appear to show a second abdominal stripe.  The Arboretum Foundation page entitled Getting to Know Our Northwest Bees identifies four species including the Yellow Faced Bumble Bee.

Yellow Faced Bumble Bee

I think you are right about the optical illusion! I zoomed in on the photo, and, sure enough, what I thought was a second yellow abdominal segment is actually one of the clover head’s flowers!
Thanks so much for your help! Trying to ID this fuzzy-butt was driving me bonkers!
Also, thank you for correcting the ID of my blue butterfly from Spring Azure (Celastrina ladon) to Pacific Azure (Celastrina echo).

They both look very much alike, and despite butterfliesandmoths.org having a verified sighting of C. ladon in Oregon (which is what led me to my ID- I simply didn’t research enough), it is quite likely that they, too, mis-identified the specimen.
-Bug aficionado

Yellow Faced Bumble Bee

Letter 19 – Yellow Faced Bumble Bee rescued from surf!!!

Subject: Yellow Faced Bumble Bee???
Location: Agate Beach Oregon coast
August 9, 2012 2:33 pm
I found this guy on my first trip to the Pacific coast. I was looking for seashells in the tide when I saw what I thought was a beetle at first moving extremely slow. I used a tiny piece of driftwood to pick him up. He proceded to crawl up my arm and groom himself. I was attempting to get a closer look at him in my hand when he climbed onto my nose.

He walked up my face and nested in my hair and dried himself for a least 45 minutes while we continued to look for shells on the beach. As we left the beach I removed him from my hair and placed him in a beautiful flower bush where he finally fluttered his wings. He actually looked more fuzzy like a bee by the time he was placed in the flowers. (My phone battery had died at that point so I didn’t get another picture)

I hope he went on to live a happy bee life.
He looks similar to the other Yellow Faced Bumble Bees on your site but I’m only guessing. Could he have stung me?
I love your site it has helped me identify many bugs and spiders.
Thank you
Signature: Anna

Yellow Faced Bumble Bee rescued from surf.

Hi Anna,
It is difficult to be be certain since salt water has altered its appearance, but we agree that this is most likely a Yellow Faced Bumble Bee,
Bombus vosnesenskii.  Though Bumble Bees are not aggressive, they are capable of stinging. 

Because of your kind deed, we are tagging this posting with the Bug Humanitarian AwardBugGuide has some nice images of Yellow Faced Bumble Bees under more typical circumstances.

Yellow Faced Bumble Bee dries out.

I just wanted to thank you for your quick response and the bug humanitarian award. 🙂 it made my day. I’m glad my little bee friend played nicely and didn’t sting me in the face. I have more pictures of myself with a bee on my face than I do of the actual coast. I got so focused on him I forgot to take other pictures.
Thanks again
Anna

Letter 20 – Yellow Fronted Bumble Bee

Subject: bumble bee
Location: NYS, Orange County
July 5, 2013 11:54 am
Dear Bugman,
I tried to ID this bumble bee but am not sure. It was the only bright yellow bee among the others on my lavender..so I took this pic but it was hard to get a clear one. Do you have any idea which it is?
Signature: klavierabend

Yellow Fronted Bumble Bee
Yellow Fronted Bumble Bee

Dear klavierabend,
Based on the coloration and pattern on your bee, we believe this is a Yellow Fronted Bumble Bee,
Bombus flavifrons, a species we posted exactly a month ago.  According to BugGuide, it is:  “Widely distributed in US and Canada.” 

Many thanks for your work!!!
K

Letter 21 – Yellow Fronted Bumble Bees

Subject: a type of bumble, or something else?
Location: West Seattle
May 31, 2013 5:22 pm
I have bees browsing a swath of pink geraniums in West Seattle.
Can you tell me what kind they are, or if they are juveniles of a common bee?
Signature: Terre Shattuck

Yellow Fronted Bumble Bees
Yellow Fronted Bumble Bees

Hi Terre,
Thanks to BugGuide, we were able to identify your Yellow Fronted Bumble Bees, Bombus flavifrons.  According to BugGuide:  “Widely distributed in US and Canada.”   These really are beautiful Bumble Bees.  We are postdating your submission to go live in early June while we are away from the office.

Yellow Fronted Bumble Bee
Yellow Fronted Bumble Bee

 

Authors

  • 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.

    View all posts
  • 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.

    View all posts
Tags: Bumble Bee

Related Posts

5 Comments. Leave new

  • These pictures are so beautiful they inspired a bit of (very) amateur detective work. Is it possible that this bee is genus Thyreus, possibly Thyreus Orbatus? It looks a lot like the bee here: http://www.wildbienen.info/grossansichten/thyreus_orbatus_f.php
    This discussion: http://www.diptera.info/forum/viewthread.php?thread_id=9399 seems to indicate that distinguishing these bee species is rather difficult but supports the notion that they could be found in Portugal…?

    p.s. apologies if this sounds incredibly amateurish.

    Reply
    • Thanks very much Helen. We don’t think your research sounds amateurish at all. The image of Thyreus orbatus looks very similar to the photos submitted by Dania.

      Reply
  • We had some kind of leacutter bee in our landscape ties last year (in Winnipeg). I watched it gnaw out chambers in the tie through a split in the wood. Thought it was a carpenter bee, but then watched it carrying leaf circles into the nest later. It had very fuzzy legs like this, which really threw me off. Never did really come up with a solid ID. The nest building process took days, it was a very diligent worker.
    Bugophile

    Reply
    • Thanks. An expert in Bees, John Ascher, just identified this as a male bee in the genus Anthophora.

      Reply
  • There is a paper about bees and substance abuse in which enforcer bees will tear the wings of the bee under the influence in an attempt to protect the hive. This could be related.

    Reply

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