Ottawa Honey House

Know your honey

The BIG bumblebee

Fig 1. Queen bumblebee foraging

Fig 1. Queen bumblebee foraging

In the earlier parts of spring you’ll find enormous bumblebees out foraging for nectar and pollen. Did your enthusiasm for the lack of snow somehow cause spring hallucinations of thumb sized bees? Thankfully this isn’t one of the effects of cabin fever.

As mentioned in a previous post about winter the honeybee is the only insect that stays active all winter (in the temperate climate zone). Bumblebees hibernate but more significantly it is only queen bumblebees that hibernate and survive to see spring.

When a queen bumblebee emerges in the spring she must forage for her own food and find and prepare a new nest. She makes her own little wax pots and lays eggs which will grow into the smaller sized worker bumblebees that we are used to seeing on our flowers. These worker bees then  forage, feed and care for the queen and the eggs she lays.

Bumblebees forage for nectar and pollen much like honeybees do but they don’t store it in the same kinds of quantities. They keep a stash in little wax pots (instead of hexagonal shaped comb) that will get them through wet weather or nectar droughts but they don’t store nearly enough to get them through a winter.

Fig 2. Bombus impatiens nest with queen. Photo by Alex Wild

Fig 2. Bombus impatiens nest with queen. Photo by Alex Wild

When summer weather gives way to hints of fall the queen lays other queen bees which will go out on mating flights to become inseminated by drones. You can find them sometimes hanging off tall grasses (the thumb sized bumblebee is the queen and the little bees hanging off of her are the drones).

When winter arrives fertile queen bumblebees find a sheltered place to hibernate (a.k.a. enter diapause) but worker bees and drones simply die.

Aren’t you glad you’re not a bee?




4 comments on “The BIG bumblebee

  1. Pauline Long
    May 22, 2014

    I have seen very large bees in my garden. I did not know they were queen bees. While out on a walk I saw a huge bee in distress – and picked it up and placed it in a safer place. I always feel so grateful when I see bees.

    • beewhispers
      May 23, 2014

      They really are amazing creatures. Not only did you save one bee you saved he beginning of an entire bumblebee colony!

  2. KathrynFournier
    May 21, 2015

    We have seen several very large bumblebees in our basement. So far we have tried to cover them with a jar and release them outside. They are not aggressive but my family does not like finding bees in the house. Any suggestions for what we should do?

    • beewhispers
      May 29, 2015

      My recommendation is to try to figure out how they are getting in and seal off the opening.. THEN trap and release the bees you find indoors. Doing so now is better than later as the bees you are finding are queen bumblebees and if they make a home in your basement you’ll find MANY more bumblebees down there once a colony is established.

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This entry was posted on May 21, 2014 by in Bee Trivia and tagged , , , , , , .




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