|Bumble Bee Queen - Bombus impatiens|
Bees & Wasps Index | Parasitica | Aculeata | Symphyta
Live adult bumble bee queen photographed in the wild at DuPage County, Illinois
Bumble bees leave chemical 'post-it' notes on flowers to tell others they have taken all the nectar.
Bumble bees are 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 build 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.
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 Bumble bee stingers can be withdrawn from the victim and reused over and over again.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, making such a loud buzz.
Bumble Bees are important pollinators of flowering plants. In this era of declining domesticated honeybee numbers, colonies of wild bumble bees take on additional importance. Bees are a crucial part of wildlife communities - known as ecosystems - because they pollinate plants in their search for their food, nectar and pollen from flowers. Worldwide, up to 40 per cent of the world's food production is due to pollination by wild bees, which include the bumblebee. Bumblebees are increasingly used in hothouse tomato production; the intense vibration produced by the flight muscles is known to efficiently dislodge the tomato flower's pollen, resulting in greater fruit production.
Many plants have evolved over the millennia to take advantage of various insects' ability to spread their pollen from plant to plant. Pollination by bees is known as melittophily.
Bee-pollinated flowers fall into two classes:
Bumblebees can pass on a culture of "cheating", according to a study published online 23 April in the Proceedings of the Royal Society. At their most beneficial, bees enter flowers to collect nectar and take pollen with them as they go. But they can also just bite a hole in the base of the flower and take nectar without pollinating. Bumblebees (Bombus terrestris) that discover holes made by other bees are much more likely to start biting holes and "stealing" nectar themselves, apparently realizing that "crime" does pay.
Insect Mimics of Bumble Bees
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.
Insects & Spiders | Bees & Wasps Index | Bees & Wasps Main | Beetles Index