A Bumblebee is any member of the bee genus Bombus, within the family Apidae, of which there are currently in excess of 250 known species still in existence.
All of those exist primarily in the Northern Hemisphere although they also occur in South America. Humans have introduced them to New Zealand and the Australian state of Tasmania.
The bee is a social insect with black and yellow body hairs, usually in bands. However, some Bumblebees have orange or red on their bodies or may be entirely black.
Bumblebee Physical Characteristics
Another obvious characteristic is the soft nature of the hair, or pile, that covers their entire body. This has the effect of making them appear and feel fuzzy.
They are best distinguished from similarly large, fuzzy bees in the form of the female hind leg, which is modified to form a corbicula. That is a shiny concave surface that is bare but surrounded by a fringe of hairs used to transport pollen. In similar bees, the back leg is completely hairy, and pollen grains are wedged into the hairs for transport.
Like their relatives, the honey bees, the Bumblebee feeds on nectar and gathers pollen to feed their young.
The bee most typically lives in higher latitudes and/or high altitudes. Exceptions to this do exist – there are a few lowland tropical species. A few types even range into very cold climates where other bees would not go.
Bumblebee Colony Formation
One species of Bumblebee lives on northern Ellesmere Island. This instance is the northernmost occurrence of any eusocial insect. One reason for this is that bumblebees can regulate their body temperature, via solar radiation, internal mechanisms of “shivering” and cooling from the abdomen (called heterothermy).
While other bees have similar physiology, the mechanisms have offered most data for this bee.
The bees adapt to higher elevations by extending their wing stroke amplitude.
Bumblebees form colonies, which are usually much less extensive than those of honey bees. Factors include:
- the small physical size of the nest cavity,
- the responsibility of a single female for the initial construction and
- reproduction that happens within the nest, and the restriction of the colony to a single season (in most species).
Bumblebee Social Patterns
Often, mature Bumblebee nests will hold fewer than 50 individuals. The nests could be within tunnels in the ground made by other animals, or in tussock grass. This is different from Carpenter Bees that burrow into wood.
Bumblebees sometimes construct a wax canopy, involucrum, over the top of their nest for protection and insulation.
Bumblebees do not often preserve their nests through the winter, though some tropical kinds live in their nests for several years. These colonies can grow quite large if there is available space.
In temperate species, the last generation of summer includes a number of queens who overwinter separately in protected spots. The queens can live up to one year, possibly longer in bees that live more south.
Both queen and worker bees can sting. Unlike that of a honey bee, the stinger of a Bumblebee lacks barbs, so the animal is able to sting repeatedly without injuring itself.Unlike the honey bee, the stinger of a Bumblebee lacks barbs, so it can sting repeatedly without injuring itself.Click To Tweet
The animal is not normally aggressive, but will sting in the defense of its nest, or if harmed.