Bumble bees are among the earliest bees of spring, so it won’t be long before beekeepers begin to hear the inevitable questions. The public, it seems, expects beekeepers to know all the bumble bee answers, so a short refresher may help.
Where do bumble bees go in winter?
Bumble bee colonies do not survive through the winter except in very warm climates. Typically, a colony begins to raise both queens and males in late summer. Once a virgin queen mates, she fattens up for the winter and seeks a sheltered place to hibernate until spring, much like a bear.
A mated queen may burrow into the ground or, depending on the species, she may select a warm and secure above-ground cavity. The remainder of the colony dies, usually with the first hard freeze.
Do bumble bees live in hives?
Bumble bees do not live in man-made hives the way honey bees do. Most bumble bee species live in an underground cavity. Usually, these holes were dug and later abandoned by a mammal such as a mouse. In early spring after the queens emerge from hibernation, you can often see them scouring the ground, looking for the perfect nesting spot. They may examine many holes before they find the right one.
Some species prefer above-ground accommodations, such as birdhouses, mailboxes, or slash piles. Occasionally, you can coax a queen to nest in a specially-designed bumble bee box, but it is difficult.
Do bumble bees swarm?
Although bumble bees live together in colonies headed by a queen, the colony does not divide and swarm the way a honey bee colony does. Instead, colony reproduction occurs in the fall when new virgin queens and males appear. After mating, the males die and the queens hibernate.
When you answer bumble bee questions, be sure to explain that bumble bee colonies stay small compared to honey bee colonies. A large bumble bee colony may have just hundreds, not thousands, of members.
How long does a bumble bee live?
A queen bumble bee emerges in the fall, mates, hibernates, and raises a colony the following spring. The entire cycle lasts one year and then she dies. The other bees in the colony—the workers and the males—live much shorter lives. The workers can live perhaps two to three months, but the males die soon after mating.
What does a bumble bee eat?
Bumble bees are generalists when it comes to food, drinking nectar and collecting pollen from a wide variety of flowering plants. The nectar is consumed for energy, while the pollen is used as a protein source. Much like honey bees, the workers feed pollen mixed with glandular secretions to the young larvae.
Do bumble bees sting?
Female bumble bees, both queens and workers, can deliver a powerful sting. Unlike honey bees, females can sting repeatedly. Their sharp, smooth stinger can easily slide back out of tough skin in preparation for delivering the next punch. Male bumble bees, just like all other male bees, cannot sting because they don’t have a stinger.
How do you collect their honey?
The queen bumble bee stores a small quantity of honey in wax pots that she builds inside the nest. She works hard to fill these pots with nectar so that when she starts to raise brood, she can stay in the nest until the first brood reaches maturity. Much like a broody hen, she carefully tends to her young family, keeping the developing bees warm with her body. The honey in the pots may be her entire food supply while she raises the first workers.
Unlike honey bees, bumble bees do not collect surplus nectar and have no need for a winter food supply. The small amount of nectar used by the queen is not enough to collect and, in any case, taking it might destroy the new colony.
Are bumble bees endangered?
All bee species are endangered to some extent, although some are more imperiled than others. Bumble bees have been particularly hard hit by habitat loss, pesticides, imported diseases, and a lack of forage. It is best not to kill any bumble bee, especially if you don’t know the species. A number of once-common bumble bees are now on the brink of extinction, so give them the benefit of the doubt and let them carry on.
Do they get colony collapse disorder?
Colony collapse disorder (CCD) describes a honey bee problem. Because honey bees and bumble bees are so different, the term CCD does not apply to bumble bees. Most notably, bumble bee colonies do not overwinter so annual colony losses, as measured by beekeepers, do not occur.
However, some conditions thought to cause colony collapse, also affect bumble bees. Introduced diseases and parasites, lack of good-quality forage, loss of habitat, habitat fragmentation, pollution, climate change, and pesticides have all been suspects in colony decline. Each of these affects bumble bees and honey bees.
Do bumble bees get Varroa mites?
Bumble bees are not bothered by Varroa destructor because the lifestyles and life cycles of these two species are very different. However, bumble bees have their own array of mites to contend with. Luckily, most of these mite species are relatively harmless to bumble bees. Although they latch on to bees for transportation to a new nest, they feed on bits of pollen and other nest debris instead of on the bees themselves.
You can often see mites clinging to foraging bumble bees. Single mites, or sometimes whole groups, ride the bee. The mites then jump off onto a flower where they await the arrival of another bee to carry them to a new nest.
The flower becomes an airport, of sorts, where mites flip through their messages and impatiently wait for a connecting flight. Sometimes, though, a mite infestation can become so heavy that a bumble bee has trouble flying. This may be temporary until the mites jump off, but in the meantime, the flight-impaired bee may succumb to predators like birds or frogs, or it may weaken, unable to gather food.
I found one that cannot fly. What should I do?
That’s a tough bumble bee question to answer. Usually, nothing can be done for a bee in distress. Things we can’t see may be affecting their health, including diseases, internal parasites, or poisoning. If the bee’s wings are tattered or its hair is worn, it might be dying of old age.
Still, sometimes a bee is just momentarily stranded and a little TLC can get her going again. I’ve seen bees fly into windows like birds and remain stunned for many minutes before they fly off. Or, if a bee is grounded due to mites, you can gently brush them off. If it’s energy she needs, you can dissolve a spoonful of sugar into a couple of spoonfuls of water and put some right in front of her.
How can I help bumble bees?
All bees need the same things: a continuous supply of flowers, water, nesting habitat, and nesting materials. So the best way to help bees is to make sure those things are available:
Now you are ready
Okay, beekeepers, now you are ready to go forth and answer questions about bumble bees. And for an excellent book about these amazing creatures, I highly recommend A Sting in the Tale by Dave Goulson. The author is a world authority on bumble bees and an excellent writer. He makes everything about these bees fun to learn.
Honey Bee Suite