Second to Honey Bees, Bumble Bees are the kind of bees we are most familiar with.
Unlike most native bees, which are solitary, and like Honey Bees, Bumble Bees live in colonies or hives with a queen and a number of workers. Their colonies last only a year, starting in the spring and dying out usually in the late fall. The only survivors of the season are the young mated queens. The old queen, all the workers and the males or drones don’t live through the winter.
Bumble Bee colonies are usually underground. In the spring the young queen finds a hole, usually an abandoned mouse burrow, prepares it as a nest and starts raising a family.
Bumble Bees range in size between 0.4 and 0.9 in. Workers are smaller than queens, drones are even smaller. If you see a pair mating in the fall you will notice the large difference in size. Queens are usually seen in the spring and the fall; the rest of the summer season only the workers are around while the queen stays in the nest laying eggs.
Bumble Bees, especially the queens, are larger than honey bees, very hairy, black with some yellow and or orange stripes on the abdomen and thorax. The females have pollen baskets on their hind legs similar to those of Honey Bees and quite different from the pollen brushes of other bees. The Bumble Bee can pack the pollen into a fairly solid mass.
Two species are very common particularly in the east: the Common Eastern Bumble Bee and the Confusing Bumble Bee. In the west there are other Bumble Bees; a very attractive one is the Red Belted Bumble Bee.
Habitat. A very wide range of habitats, from farms and gardens to large cities’ downtown.
Season. It starts flying as early as March and continues until October. In southern states, the season is practically year round.
Flowers. Many different kinds of flowers. Their tongues are long enough that they can reach the nectar of some deeper flowers. A good time to see them is in the fall when goldenrods are in bloom.