The bumblebee (or bumble bee) is an important pollinator and is crucial in pollinating crops such as tomatoes, strawberries, and blueberries. It is also important for pollinating many wildflowers, which provide habitat and food for other wildlife.
Where to Find Bumblebees?
Bumblebees are native to many regions of the world, including North America, Europe, and Asia.
In North America, there are over 50 species, with the largest diversity found in the western states. In Europe, there are over 20 species, including the well-known buff-tailed bumblebee. In Asia, there are several species, including the large carpenter bee.
Bumblebees are able to adapt to a wide range of climatic conditions and are found in both temperate and tropical regions. However, their populations may be affected by habitat loss, pesticide use, and climate change, which can reduce the availability of food and nesting sites.
What Does a Bumblebee Look Like?
Bumblebees are large, fuzzy insects that are easily recognized by their size and their distinctive buzz. They are typically black or yellow and have distinctive markings on their bodies that make them easy to identify.
They have a round, plump body and short, stubby wings. Their wings beat rapidly, which creates the characteristic buzz that is often associated with bumblebees. They have a long tongue that they use to collect nectar from flowers, and their bodies are covered in fine hairs that help to collect and distribute pollen.
Bumblebees are social insects and live in colonies, which are typically led by a queen. Worker bumblebees collect nectar and pollen to feed the colony, while drones mate with the queen to produce new generations of bumblebees.
Do Bumblebees Sting?
Yes, bumblebees can sting. Here are some things to know about bumblebee stings:
- Stinger: Unlike honey bees, which have barbed stingers and can only sting once (leaving the stinger behind in the process), bumblebees have smooth stingers. This means that a bumblebee can sting multiple times without dying.
- Temperament: Bumblebees are generally not aggressive and will usually only sting if they feel threatened or provoked. For instance, if you accidentally step on one or if you are disturbing their nest, there’s a higher chance they might sting.
- Pain: While any bee sting can be painful, many people report that bumblebee stings can be particularly painful. The level of pain and the reaction can vary among individuals.
- Allergic Reactions: As with other bee and wasp stings, some people may be allergic to bumblebee stings. An allergic reaction can be severe and may include symptoms like difficulty breathing, hives, and swelling of the face, lips, or throat. Anyone experiencing these symptoms after a sting should seek medical attention immediately.
- Sexual Dimorphism: Only females have stingers and can sting. Males do not have stingers and cannot sting.
- Prevention: If you’re around areas where bumblebees are active, it’s a good idea to avoid rapid or erratic movements and to wear shoes, especially in grassy areas. If you come across a bumblebee nest, it’s best to leave it alone.
In general, while bumblebees can sting, they are not typically aggressive unless provoked or their nest is disturbed.
The bumblebee life cycle is a yearly cycle that starts in the spring and ends in the fall. It involves the following stages:
- Queen emergence: In the spring, a new queen emerges from her cocoon and begins to search for a suitable nesting site. She is the only bumblebee in the colony that has mated, and her sole responsibility is to lay eggs and start a new colony.
- Nest establishment: The queen finds a suitable nest site, typically in a cavity such as a birdhouse, a mouse burrow, or a pile of leaves. She then begins to lay eggs and rear the first batch of worker bumblebees.
- Worker emergence: The first batch of workers emerges from their cocoons and begins to take over the tasks of the colony, such as collecting nectar and pollen and caring for the young.
- Colony growth: The colony continues to grow as more workers emerge and the queen continues to lay eggs. The colony reaches its peak size in late summer or early fall, when it may contain several hundred bumblebees.
- Reproductive phase: As the colony begins to decline in size, the queen lays eggs that develop into new queens and drones. These reproductive bumblebees will mate and start new colonies the following year.
- Winter dormancy: In the fall, the colony dies out, and the new queens enter a state of dormancy, overwintering in a cocoon until the following spring.
Do Bumblebees Make Honey?
Bumblebees produce a nectar storage solution that is similar to honey, but it’s not quite the same as the honey produced by honey bees. Here are some points to consider:
- Purpose: Bumblebees produce this nectar storage primarily to feed their young and the queen. It’s not stored in large quantities as honey bees do for winter sustenance.
- Quantity: The amount of stored nectar in a bumblebee nest is relatively small compared to a honey bee hive. Honey bees produce surplus honey, which beekeepers can harvest, whereas bumblebees produce just enough for their immediate needs.
- Composition: Bumblebee “honey” is less concentrated and can be more watery than honey bee honey. This is because honey bees evaporate more of the water content from nectar, which helps preserve the honey for longer periods.
- Harvesting: Bumblebee nectar storage is not harvested by humans because the quantities are so small and the nests are not organized like honey bee hives.
Why a Beneficial Insect?
Bumblebees are beneficial to the environment for several reasons:
- Pollination: Bumblebees are important pollinators of crops and wildflowers. They transfer pollen from one flower to another, enabling plants to produce fruits and seeds. This process is crucial for maintaining biodiversity and supporting food production.
- Natural Pest Control: Bumblebees feed on pests such as aphids, which can damage crops. By feeding on these pests, they help to reduce the need for chemical pesticides.
- Supporting Ecosystems: Bumblebees play a critical role in supporting ecosystems by helping to maintain the balance of plants and animals within them.
- Climate Regulation: Bumblebees help to regulate the Earth’s climate by producing oxygen and absorbing carbon dioxide.
- Genetic Diversity: Bumblebees are also important for maintaining genetic diversity among plant populations. They transfer genes between different populations of plants, creating a greater diversity of species and helping to ensure their survival.
Overall, bumble bees are essential to the health and well-being of the planet, and their decline has serious implications for the environment and human communities.
Attract this Beneficial Insect to your Garden
Here are some ways you can attract them to your garden:
- Plant native flowering plants: Bumble bees are attracted to native flowering plants, especially those that bloom in the early spring and late summer when food is scarce. Some popular plants include wildflowers, herbs, and shrubs like lavender, clover, and rosemary.
- Provide a source of water: They need a source of water to drink from. Place a shallow dish of water near your flowering plants to attract them.
- Create a habitat: Bumble bees also need a place to nest. You can create habitat by leaving some bare ground in a sunny location and planting native grasses and wildflowers.
- Avoid pesticides: Pesticides can harm bumble bees and other beneficial insects. Instead, use organic methods to control pests and diseases.
- Plant in groups: Bumble bees are more likely to be attracted to your garden if you plant flowering plants in large groups rather than as individual specimens.
- Provide a diversity of blooms: They feed on different types of nectar and pollen, so it is important to provide a diversity of blooms throughout the growing season. This will ensure that they have a reliable food source throughout the year.
By following these tips, you can create a garden that is both beautiful and beneficial to bumble bees and other pollinators.
While every effort has been made to describe these plants accurately, please keep in mind that height, bloom time, and color may differ in various climates. The description of these plants has been written based on numerous outside resources.