|Tricolored Bumble Bee - Bombus ternarius|
Order Hymenoptera - Ants, Bees, Wasps and Sawflies
Bees & Wasps Index | Parasitica | Aculeata | Symphyta
Live adult tricolored bumble bees photographed in the wild at Allegheny Nat'l Forest, Pennsylvania.
Bumble bees are relatively large flying insects in the order Hymenoptera, Family Apidae, genus Bombus. They are usually covered with aposematically-colored pile, that is, long, branched hair in "warning" colors of black-and-yellow. Like their relatives the honey bees, bumblebees form colonies, build nests, feed on nectar, and gather pollen to feed their young.
Bumble bees usually form their nests underground, and they are much less extensive than those of honey bees. A single bumblebee queen is responsible for the initial nest construction and reproduction. Often, mature colonies will consist of fewer than 50 individuals. Bumblebees sometimes construct a wax canopy ("involucrum") over top of their nest for protection and insulation. Nests are not used year after year; the last generation of summer includes a number of queens who overwinter separately in protected spots.
Bumble bee queens that have already mated overwinter until early spring, then find a hole or crevice in or near the ground. She builds honeypots and brood cells, and begins laying eggs. Small sterile female worker bees develop first, and they begin foraging for nectar. As the weather warms into early summer, new brood cells and honeypots are constructed. These new brood cells produce larger adults which in turn are put to work gathering nectar for the colony. In autumn, fledgling queens mate with drones, and begin the cycle again.
This old worker's wings were so tattered she could not fly - but frenetically continued to gather nectar from flowers on the ground.
Bumble bees differ from honey bees in many respects, not least of which is their stinger, which does not have barbs like that of the honey bee. Bumble bee stingers can be withdrawn from the victim and reused over and over again. Yow! I've been stung by honey bees many times, but never by one of these babies. They can be very intimidating, being so large and making such a loud buzz. Good thing they are always ignoring us and present very little danger to humans or their pets. Even when aroused, a colony will send many bees out to buzz any would-be predators, but they seem to me to be doing nothing but buzzing - no stinging, like the Eastern Yellowjacket, for instance.
I have been attacked twice by both the aforementioned beasts; once by the latter when I foolishly emptied a can of Raid flying insect spray into an underground nest containing about 200 of them: and by the former when I accidentally uncovered and damaged a bumble bee colony constructed underground, right next to the concrete foundation of our house - they had tunneled into some of the spray-in insulation with which I had I had coated the underside of the clap-board siding. That attack lasted about two days before the bumble bees would not buzz the crap out of me when I came out the front door. At the height of the melee, there were 30 or more of them flying about very energetically, buzzing me. It was actually rather terrifying, except they never stung me or even touched me. I liked that about them, and admired their aggressive and passive qualities alike. Undoubtedly, these magnificent creatures would rather not waste an energy-demanding resource like venom unless absolutely necessary.
Hymenoptera (Latin for membrane wing) is a vast assemblage of insects second only to Coleoptera (beetles) in the number of described species. Hymenoptera number some 115,000 species - of which 18,000 live in North America. Hymenopterans inhabit a wide variety of habitats, and show an incredible diversity in size, behavior, structure and color.
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