Bumble Bees
(Bombus species)

Bumble Bees or Bumblebees are large, attractive insects that are of interest to children, scientists, beekeepers, naturalists, conservationist, home gardeners, farmers and commercial bumble bee breeders.

There are roughly 50 species of this bee that inhabit virtually the whole North American Continent which vary in size and coloration.

These highly beneficial insects pollinate many native plants, home-grown fruits and vegetables and agricultural crops.

Though Bumbles are highly social insects, their colonies are not perennial in nature as honey bees.

They do not store a surplus of honey, which can be harvested.

Bee populations in nature fluctuate from year to year depending on many factors including weather, parasites and predators.

Bumble Bee


They're big, fuzzy insects recognized by almost everyone by their robust shape and black and yellow coloration. The common species are 3/4 inch in length or more. Like honey bees, Bumbles live in a colony where the adults care for the young (larvae) produced by a single queen.

Bumble bee nests are small compared to honey bees, as each nest contains at peak season contains from about one hundred to a few hundred individuals. Also unlike honey bees, a Bumble nest is annual and is used only one year and then abandoned.

Bumbles usually nest in the ground in a deserted mouse nest or bird nest. Occasionally they nest in cavities within a wall or an old wood pile.

The Bumble bee's black or yellow hairy abdomen, which is a character that can be used to differentiate it from a carpenter bee, which has a black, shiny, hairless abdomen. The foraging Bumble has a large pollen basket on each hind leg that is often loaded with pollen.

The queens are typically twice a large as workers or males. A female bee has a pointed abdomen with a stinger. Males do not have a stinger and the tip of the abdomen is rounded.

Bumble Bee

Life Cycle:

The Bumble bee colony is made up of three types of individuals (queen, undeveloped female workers and males).

The Humble Bumble produce annual colonies, only the mated queens over winter (survive the winter). Nests are started in early spring by these solitary, fertilized queens. These queens are often seen feeding on spring flowers or searching for a suitable nest site.

Normally, nests are established in an abandoned rodent or bird nest in the ground. The solitary queen begins the colony by collecting pollen and forming it into a small lump. She lays five to twenty worker eggs on this pollen.

After four to five days, the eggs hatch into larvae (immature forms), which begin to feed on the lump of pollen

Bumble Bee

Maintaining Dominance:

Bumble bee queens appear to maintain dominance purely by aggressive behavior, though it is believed that a dominant queen secretes a pheromone that suppresses the glands in workers that would otherwise lead to their
ovaries developing.

In many species the queen is bigger than the workers, she uses her size to dominate workers by opening her mandibles and head-butting the most dominant worker from time to time. This is usually sufficient until unfertilized eggs are laid, or a worker's ovaries develop.

Although Bumble bees produce nectar, the quantity produced is not enough to make it worth while domesticating them (for honey) as has been done with honey bees. Nectar is collected and stored in small sac-like "honey pots" built from wax and pollen. The workers enlarge the nest and by midsummer the colony will have 20 to 100 workers.

By late summer, the colony may have several hundred Bumbles. The colony produces new queens and males in late summer. They leave the nest to take mating flights that look like aerial dances.

The successfully mated queens fly to the ground and hibernate 2 to 5 inches deep in the soil. The production signals the end of the colony’s life. The over wintering queens emerge the next spring to complete their life cycle.

Bumble Bee

Feeling Threatened:

This is one of the things I really enjoy about these bees.

How do you know if you are upsetting a Bumble bee?

Bumbles are busy bees, and will ignore you unless you do something to make the bee feel threatened.

Even then, the Humble Bumble will let you know in its own way.

Petting a Bumble, it's quite simple really.

Move slow ........

Gently pet the bee with your index finger.

If the bee is on a flower or other surface and is feeling threatened it will raise one of its middle legs. This is a sign that you are too close and should back off a bit.

Sometimes when I pet Bumble bees, it will raise the middle leg and other times she is slow to do so. Petting one of these hairy insects is quite easy to do on cool days.

When most bees are in hiding, the stout Bumble bee is still hard at work.

Cool weather days are best, as the bee is a bit lethargic.

In cool weather the bee may even fall to the ground to avoid you, as it hasn't built up enough heat to fly off. .

Sometimes a Bumble will let out a high pitched buzz to let me know its now or never.

Bumble bees are one of the most passive of species and easy to study.

As far as bees go, Bumbles are the "Gentle Giant." It takes some doing to get them mad enough to sting unless you "step on them" or try to catch one.

They have a smooth, sharp stinger and can repeat sting. They're not like the Honey bee with a barbed stinger that is one and done.


Bumbles are vegetarian at all stages of their life.

The workers gather pollen and nectar. Pollen is a good source of protein. Most of the pollen is fed to the larva, and the workers and males eat very little - they live on nectar that has been turned to honey. The queen eats pollen to give her protein for egg formation.

Bumble bees get all their food from flowers.

Natural Enemies:

Probably more Bumble bees are killed by parasites than by predators.

This may be because the bumblebee females are armed with a sting, but it is also due to the protection given by their warning coloration.

Some Crab Spiders' ambush Bumble bees at flowers, and a few species of bird can remove the sting before eating the Bumble bee, (bee-eaters, spotted flycatchers and shrikes, etc.).

In the U. S. and Canada there are wasps called bee wolves these wasps specialize in hunting bumblebees.

The Bumble bee is caught while feeding and is paralyzed with a sting, it is taken back to the nest and enclosed with a wasp egg in a cell, there are usually about five Bumble bees in each cell.

Other predators are small mammals, badgers, foxes, and minks, skunks and bears. 

All break open and destroy nests to eat the larvae, bees and food stores, but there are no vertebrate predators that specialize in Bumble bees.

Male behavior:

Bumble Bee

Once males, or the Drone leave the nest they do not go back, so they have to find somewhere to spend the night. Hanging underneath the heads of flowers or even getting right into them is what they normally do.

That used to be what entomologists once thought.

Now science reveals this .....

When the adult males emerge they spend a few days in the nest, but do not work, and they leave the nest to forage for themselves, returning to the nest for shelter, but they do not work.

Their temperatures will drop and by morning they will have used up their stores of energy, so until they warm up by either drinking nectar or sitting in the sun or both, they will appear listless and sick.

The Humble Bumble Bee:

Too big and clumsy to fly according to science. Not aerodynamic and other silly things. (Never under estimate our Creator, however.)

Bumbles are often the earliest bees out of hibernation in early Spring and some of the last bees we see in the cool of Autumn.

Bumble bees are often the earliest bees out of hibernation in early Spring and some of the last bees we see in the cool of Autumn.

The Humble Bumble, You may think it is the fat hairy body that keep the bee warm so it can withstand the cools of Spring and Fall.

In fact, the Bumble is unique, it shivers much like we do to warm up its body temperature and to stay warm.

The cooler the body Temperature, the faster the bee vibrates to warm up.

Bumble bees seem to prefer the color purple, but see in Ultra Violet which means they see colors we can't see and explains why they fly to our yellow and white vegetable garden flowers.

"So why are Bumble Bees the Prime pollinator of my tomato plants?"

They are one special bee.

The best pollinator for tomatoes is the Bumble bee which "sonicated" at the resonant frequency of the flower.

Sonication, also called buzz pollination is when the bee vibrates its wing muscles but doesn't fly; it just hangs on.

Bumble Bee

The reason is that tomato pollen is not in the exterior of the anthers like most flowers, rather it is produced internally and then released thru pores in the anther. Motion is required to release the pollen, and the greatest quantity is released by sonication of the correct frequency.

When it does, it pulls the flower down into a vertical position, puts its fat belly against the stigma, and buzzes.

The pollen that is released, now will fall by gravity (since the flower is now tilting down) directly to the bee's fuzzy (and statically charged) belly, which is rubbing against the sticky stigma as it vibrates.

Tomatoes are self fertile, but the pollen can come from any other tomato that the bee has visited.

The size of the fruit is dependent on the number of ovules fertilized, up to the 100% mark.

In other words, the more seeds, the meatier the tomato.

So we want to get pollination as full as possible.

However other bees with different frequency, or even shaking by wind will release some pollen.

There are a couple problems:

One is that the natural pollinator (a wild bee) didn't travel with the tomato as it was spread throughout the world.

The other is that the flower is not very attractive to other bees, and when bee populations are low the tomato generally gets ignored, plus some bees don't have the right "Buzz Technique."

Bumbles are the most often seen on tomatoes, though honeybees, when hungry enough will also work them, as will some solitary bees.

The Humble Bumble Bee is also the main pollinator for beans, peas, pumpkins, squash and often for melons.

Bumbles take on the not so glamorous blooms, like peas and beans.

Bumble bees have pollen sacks on their back legs. I'm sure you have noticed Bumbles with pollen attached to the legs and yellow all over their body. Bumbles on average will return to the nest carrying an extra 25% of its body weight in pollen. While foraging it will eat another 10% of body weight.

Flying from flower to flower is hard work.

Not only can Bumbles see (Ultra Violet) when a flower is ready to be had, they can also smell if another Bumble bee has been there and tends to leave that blossom alone.

Remember how it is said that Bumbles aren't built to fly?

Here is an interesting link on showing how the impossible flight is possible.

Science Now Shows How Bumblebees fly

Bumble Bee

Worker Bees have a short life of around four weeks. Visiting between 10 and 18 flowers a minute, a single bumble can get a lot accomplished in a four week period.

Bumbles are the every day " Joe " when it comes to our gardens, taking on the tough jobs and the unglamorous jobs, but jobs that "Nature" needs taken care of.

Bumbles Bees are now used exclusively for greenhouse pollination.

In Europe the quest for a better "greenhouse Bee" has brought back to North America unknown viruses. If these viruses escape into our wild bee populations, we can expect Bumble colony collapse the same way we experienced it with European honey bees.


Since Bumbles are excellent pollinators, we should encourage management strategies that help maintain and increase wild colonies.

Bumbles natural nesting habitat has been drastically decreased by industrial and residential expansion. Large farm mono culture practices are also detrimental to good nesting sites.

A way to encourage nesting is to set aside uncultivated farm land or hedgerows that are attractive to queens searching for nesting sites. Queens are not too selective as long as the potential nesting site is a dark, underground cavity filled with fine plant fiber. Acceptable nest sites include a burrow beneath an old tree stump or an abandoned rodent nest.

Lessons In Nature:

Amateur naturalists and children may learn much by observing The Humble Bumble on flowers attractive to the bees. Through simple observation of foraging bumble bees, children can identify pollen loads by using color charts and study flowers constancy by following individually marked bees.


Although Bumbles are normally harmless when foraging, a disturbed colony can be nasty. Guard bees stand ready to protect the nest against predators, including skunks and man.

The worker bee can sting repeatedly without sacrificing her life. Precautions should be taken when working or playing in areas that are likely to be inhabited by bumble bees. This is especially true when mowing fields or trimming weeds around trash or wood piles.

A bee veil and hat are highly recommended during summer and fall when doing these activities.

If a colony is disturbed, a person should slowly walk away with both hands covering the face. It is best to walk toward dense vegetation or enter a vehicle or building to escape the stinging insects. Swift movements will only attract more bees.

Persons highly sensitive to bee stings should always carry a sting treatment kit during outdoor activities. To reduce swelling following a stinging incident, a person may use several sting remedies .

A convenient material to place on the sting site is moistened table salt. Mound the salt on the sting entry point and moisten with a few drops of water. Leave the salt on the site for several minutes.

Bumble bee

This procedure must be applied within three to four minutes following the stinging incident to be effective. If a colony becomes life-threatening to humans, the bumble bees should be considered pests and eliminated.

However, if at all possible let the nest die out naturally in the fall.

A Bumble nest should not be disturbed
or destroyed because of its high pollination value.

Attract Bumble Bees and Other Pollinators.

Pollen Sacs

Orchard Mason Bees

Leafcutter Bees

Honey Bees

Ground Bees

Squash Bees

Protecting Pollinators

Pollination Primers


Bumble Bees, Butterflies and other Pollinators. Sign up for Your weekly 'Gardening for Wildlife' newsletter and enjoy Nature more.

Enter your E-mail Address
Enter your First Name (optional)

Don't worry — your e-mail address is totally secure.
I promise to use it only to send you Gardening For Wildlife.
Enjoy this page? Please pay it forward. Here's how...

Would you prefer to share this page with others by linking to it?

  1. Click on the HTML link code below.
  2. Copy and paste it, adding a note of your own, into your blog, a Web page, forums, a blog comment, your Facebook account, or anywhere that someone would find this page valuable.