Bumble bees of spring!

It’s Spring! I’ve seen a few queen bumble bees out and buzzing around in my yard. Bumbles are one of the first pollinators out in the spring, and the fuzzy adorableness of their bodies does help retain heat.

(Pro Tip: From the shocked looks I’m getting, I guess not everyone stops to talk to foraging bumblebees. Huh. You may wish to learn from my fail on this one.)

Bumble bees are some of the first bees to fly in spring; they will fly in cooler temperatures and at lower light levels than many other bees. Cold, grey morning? Not a problem for a bumble! This makes them invaluable native pollinators.

Bumble bees have a slightly different life cycle than other native bees.  While most native bees overwinter as pupae and emerge as adults in the spring, Bumble bee queens emerge as adults in the fall and search for overwintering sites, burrowing into leaf litter or loose soil to hide for the winter.  Don’t rake your yard bare! That’s good winter shelter.

I love Rusty’s description of a queen bumble as analogous to a chicken.  Because she builds her nest very early in spring when temperatures are still quite low, she incubates her eggs!

While the bumble bee queen hibernates she is neither eating nor working. Her depressed rate of metabolism allows her to live for long periods while burning very little fuel.  In the spring, she must work hard. She begins by finding a suitable nesting spot. Next she builds a “honey pot” from wax and will use it to hold a small store of honey. She will also collect pollen, and make a pile of pollen mixed with honey called “bee bread.”

Here is where it gets weird. Much like a chicken, the queen bumble bee will lay her eggs on the pollen and then sit on them to keep them warm. During the development of the young bumble bees, the queen will eat the honey she stored in her pot.  The first batch of young bees will be mostly workers—bees who can take over the household chores and foraging while the queen continues to lay eggs. Later in the season, she will lay some eggs that become queens and drones. These bees will be the ones that are responsible for the next generation.

This video about bumble bees has the feel of a school info film, but lots of great images of how a queen bumble bee creates her nest in the spring.

There is a handy guide to identifying your bumble at Xerces as well.

Other Bumble reads and videos: