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Bombus

Diversity

The genus Bombus, commonly known as bumble bees, includes 260 species worldwide. In North America, there are 43 species in the west, 24 in the east, and 18 in the south. (Bartlett, 2019; Colla, et al., 2011)

What do they look like?

Bumble bees have a yellow and black striped pattern. Some species have orange or reddish colors too. They have short, pale hairs on their thoraxes and black hairs on their heads, abdomens, and legs. Females have pollen baskets on their hind legs. Males and females of some species have different face colors. Members of this genus can be confused with eastern carpenter bees. Different kinds of bumble bees have different lengths of tongues. (Borror and White, 1970; Colla, et al., 2011; Stange and Fasulo, 2018)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • female larger
  • sexes colored or patterned differently

Where do they live?

Bumble bees are found in the mild parts of North, Central, and South America, Europe, and Asia. They are not found in Australia, parts of India, and most of Africa. (Colla, et al., 2011)

What kind of habitat do they need?

Bumble bees live in all kinds of habitats, such as urban areas, suburbs, and farmlands. Grasslands, forests, and marshes are also habitats of this species. Bumble bees can be found in cool to warm climates. Some species of this genus may build nests underground. Others may steal nests from other species of bumble bees. (Colla, et al., 2011; Resh and Cardè, 2009; Stange and Fasulo, 2018)

How do they grow?

Eggs are laid in their own cells, develop into larvae, and hatch after about 4 days. Larvae go through four stages of development. They spin cocoons and become pupa in about two weeks. Pupae develop for another 2 weeks to become adults. (Colla, et al., 2011)

How do they reproduce?

Queen bees are the only female bees to mate. Bumble bees in the subgenus Psithrys are parasites that use the nests of other bumble bees to lay eggs. (Colla, et al., 2011)

Colonies of bumble bees last one year and are built by a single queen bee. Bumble bees use sexual reproduction. After fertilized queens are done sleeping through the winter, they will build the colony alone. The first group of worker bees hatches and they care for the next generation. Males are born during midsummer. (Bartlett, 2019; Colla, et al., 2011; Stange and Fasulo, 2018)

Female bumble bees take care of the young. (Colla, et al., 2011; Stange and Fasulo, 2018)

How long do they live?

Bumble bees produce generations every year. Queen bumble bees live for a maximum of one year. Workers and males live for a much shorter time period. Males and workers normally die during colder weather. Queen bees will spend the winter In areas that do not get cold seasons, bumble bees may be found year-round. (Colla, et al., 2011)

How do they behave?

Bumble bees can live in surprisingly large groups. Younger generations take care of the larvae. Older generations of bumble bees hunt for pollen during the day. While bees hunt for nectar and pollen, they pollinate the plants that they land on. In the nest, pollen and saliva are chewed together to produce honey. Male bees do not do any work. Bumble bees are active for an oddly long part of the year. (Colla, et al., 2011; Eaton and Kaufman, 2007; Resh and Cardè, 2009)

How do they communicate with each other?

Like other social bees, bumblebees communicate using touch, vision, chemicals called pheromones, and wing vibrations. Bees communicate about the safety of the nest, where food is, and what they should do. Like other bees, bumblebees can see ultraviolet light. (Colla, et al., 2011)

Like other social bees, bumblebees communicate using touch, vision, chemicals called pheromones, and wing vibrations. Bees communicate about the safety of the nest, where food is, and what they should do. Like other bees, bumblebees can see ultraviolet light. (Colla, et al., 2011)

What do they eat?

Bumble bees drink the nectar and gather the pollen a lot of different kinds of plants. They are called generalist foragers. Adults feed on nectar from native wildflowers and crops to get the energy to fly. Larvae feed on pollen gathered by the adults. Species of bumble bees have different tongue lengths, which makes them feed from different plants. Members of this genus store food. Some species store pollen in empty cocoons, while others store pollen in a pocket near larval cells. (Bartlett, 2019; Colla, et al., 2011)

Bumble bees pollinate many crops, including apples, alfalfa, almonds, apricots, blackberries, beans, blueberries, cherries, chives, cranberries, cucumbers, eggplants, nectarines, peaches, peppers, plums, raspberries, rosehips, soybeans, strawberries, sunflowers, and tomatoes. (Colla, et al., 2011)

What eats them and how do they avoid being eaten?

Bumble bees are preyed on by birds and other animals. (Bartlett, 2019; Colla, et al., 2011; Resh and Cardè, 2009)

Bumble bees are eaten by birds and other animals. (Bartlett, 2019; Colla, et al., 2011; Resh and Cardè, 2009)

What roles do they have in the ecosystem?

Bumble bees are important pollinators. While gathering food, they pollinate the plants from which they harvest nectar and pollen. They are eaten by various birds and other animals. (Bartlett, 2019; Colla, et al., 2011)

Members of the subgenus Psithyrus are parasitoids of bumble bees. A few of these species are B. ashtoni, B. citrinus, B. fernaldae, B. insularis, and B. variabilis. (Bartlett, 2019)

  • Ecosystem Impact
  • pollinates

Do they cause problems?

Bumble bees may sting when they feel threatened. (Colla, et al., 2011)

  • Ways that these animals might be a problem for humans
  • injures humans

How do they interact with us?

Bumble bees are helpful to humans because they are extremely important pollinators. They pollinate many types of flowers. They are used as a pollinator for crops in locations outside of their native range. (Colla, et al., 2011)

  • Ways that people benefit from these animals:
  • pollinates crops

Are they endangered?

Populations of the species B. occidentalis, B. pensylvanicus, B. affinis, and B. terricola have seriously declined. (Bartlett, 2019)

  • IUCN Red List [Link]
    Not Evaluated

Contributors

Deena Hauze (author), Animal Diversity Web Staff.

References

Bartlett, T. 2019. "Genus Bombus - Bumble Bees" (On-line). Bug Guide. Accessed August 28, 2020 at https://bugguide.net/node/view/3077.

Borror, D., R. White. 1970. A field guide to the insects of America north of Mexico. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.

Colla, S., L. Richardson, P. Williams. 2011. Bumble Bees of the Eastern United States. Washington, D.C.: USDA Forest Service and the Pollinator Partnership.

Eaton, E., K. Kaufman. 2007. Kaufman Field Guide to Insects of North America. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company.

Resh, V., R. Cardè. 2009. Encyclopedia of Insects, Second Edition. Amsterdam: Elsevier.

Stange, L., T. Fasulo. 2018. "common name: bumble bees (of Florida)" (On-line). Featured Creatures Entomology & Nematology. Accessed August 28, 2020 at http://entnemdept.ufl.edu/creatures/misc/bees/bumble_bees.htm.

 
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Hauze, D. 2020. "Bombus" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed October 22, 2021 at http://www.biokids.umich.edu/accounts/Bombus/

BioKIDS is sponsored in part by the Interagency Education Research Initiative. It is a partnership of the University of Michigan School of Education, University of Michigan Museum of Zoology, and the Detroit Public Schools. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant DRL-0628151.
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