bombus / bumble Bee

Family: Apidae

Genus: Bombus

Common Name: Bumble Bee

APPEARANCE

Physical Appearance

Typically black, very fuzzy bees, with varying numbers and sometimes combinations of yellow, red, orange, brown or white colored bands on the thorax and abdomen. In some species, the male has lighter coloring than the female.

The female carries pollen, moistened with nectar, in a fringe of stiff, inward curved hairs on her hind legs, called a pollen basket.

Size: Medium to large, robust bees, 1/2 to 1 inch in length. Queens are much larger than either female workers or males.

Characteristics

Bumble bees form annual colonies. Within these colonies, mated queens overwinter by burrowing a few inches underground or beneath a pile of leaf litter and then emerge to found new nests in the spring.

Bumble bee colonies consist of the queen and anywhere from a few dozen to a few hundred female workers. Annual colonies typically persist from spring through summer, with male bumble bees and new queens being produced towards the end of the season. The males mate with new queens, which will overwinter to begin a new cycle.

Female bumble bees are able to “buzz-pollinate” the flowers of certain plants. By grasping the flower and rapidly vibrating her wing muscles, a female bumble bee is able to release a burst of pollen from deep pores in the flower’s anthers.

Partly due to their ability to buzz-pollinate, bumble bees are excellent crop pollinators. They are more effective than honey bees at pollinating crops such as tomatoes, cranberries and blueberries.

VIDEO: A female bee approaches the flower, buzz-pollinates, then departs the flower.

HABITS

Distribution

This is a widespread genus, with most of the roughly 260 species distributed throughout the Americas and Eurasia. North American Bombus species are found in almost every region across the continent, the range of some species extending well into northern Canada.

 

Number of species in North America

Forty-nine

 

Emergence Time

Queens in early spring, followed by several generations of female workers starting in late spring, and finally males and new queens, in mid to late summer.

 

Nesting Habit

Cavity nesting, using abandoned rodent nests or other pre-formed cavities, typically in the ground, or under grass tussocks.

 

Pollinated Garden Crops Include

Tomato

Apple

Peppers

Blueberry

Almond

Sunflower

Watermelon

 

Additional Flowers Visited in Natural Areas

Baptisia (wild indigo)

Rubus (blackberry)

Spiraea (steeplebush, meadowsweet)

Visited Plants

Agastache / Giant Hyssop

Amorpha / False Indigo

Arctostaphylos / Manzanita

Asclepias / Milkweed

Ceanothus / Wild Lilac

Cercis / Redbud

Chamerion / Fireweed

Chrysothamnus / Rabbitbrush

Clarkia / Clarkia

Cleome / Spiderflower

Coreopsis / Tickseed

Cosmos / Cosmos

Cucurbita / Gourd

Dalea / Prairie Clover

Erigeron / Fleabane

Eriogonum / Buckwheat

Eryngium / Eryngo

Eschscholzia / California Poppy

Eutrochium / Joe-Pye Weed

Gaillardia / Blanketflower

Geranium / Wild Geranium

Grindelia / Gumweed

Helenium / Sneezeweed

Helianthus / Sunflower

Larrea / Creosote Bush

Lavandula / Lavender

Liatris / Blazing Star

Lupinus / Lupine

Monarda / Beebalm

Nepeta / Catmint

Penstemon / Beardtongue

Phacelia / Scorpionweed

Prunus / Plum

Pycnanthemum / Mountainmint

Rhododendron / Rhododendron

Ribes / Currant

Rosa / Rose

Rudbeckia / Coneflower

Salix / Willow

Salvia / Sage

Scrophularia / Figwort

Silphium / Rosinweed

Solidago / Goldenrod

Sphaeralcea / Globemallow