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The Bumblebee

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bombus leucorum …. White tail

These bee photographs were taken in Suffolk in June 2012

These bee photographs were taken in Suffolk in June 2012

The Genus Bombus - The Bumblebee

The name Bumblebee does not refer to a single species of bee but is the common name given to bees that belong to the genus Bombus.

There are over 250 species of Bumblebee in the world and most of these are in the Northern hemisphere.

At present 24 of these species can be found in Britain but only 8 out of the 24 are commonly found and these are.

  • Buff-tailed bumblebee Bombus terrestris
  • White- tailed bumblebee Bombus lucorum
  • Garden bumblebee Bombus hortorum
  • Early bumblebee Bombus pratorum
  • Common carder bee Bombus pascuorum
  • Red-tailed bumblebee Bombus lapidaries
  • Tree bumblebee Bombus hypnorum
  • Heath bumblebee Bombus jonellus

Taking Nectar from the Flower

You can see the bumblebees tongue in this photograph

You can see the bumblebees tongue in this photograph

Great Pollinators

Bumblebees are one of the first types of bee to emerge after winter. The Bumblebee has a thick coat of hair, which provides insulations for the bee and allows it to be active in temperatures that most other kinds of bee cannot.

Bumblebees have four wings the back two are smaller than the front two and they are attached to the front two by hamuli, which are like a row of hooks.

The bumblebee has a long tongue that is feathered at the tip which enables it to reach right inside the flower to gather nectar.

If you look closely at the photograph, you can see the bumblebee’s long tongue reaching down into the heart of the flower.

As the bees gather the pollen and nectar from the flowers, pollen from those flowers sticks to them so that as they flit from flower to flower they pollinate the flowers while they are in the process of feeding.

Bumblebees are great pollinators, and they play a vital role in the fertilization of our own food sources without them we would be in real trouble.


Bumblebees on the Decline in Britain

Unfortunately, Britain is becoming a more and more unfriendly place as the Agricultural practices of today remove more and more of the Bumblebee’s traditional food sources.

Many ordinary people in Britain have taken it upon themselves to plant bee friendly gardens to try to attract the bees in an effort to slow down the decline in the bee population.

For a great example of this see nettlemere's hub who's garden is bumblebee friendly there you will find information about what to plant and what not to plant. Nettlemere has a bumblebee nest in the garden shed, the hub has a great video, lots of photographs supporting the informative and interesting text

It does not take much to make your garden into a bumblebee friendly place, there are lots of places on the web where you can find out what to plant to encourage bees to come to your garden.

The declining bumblebee population has become such a concern that a trust has been set up called The Bumblebee Conservation Trust,

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A few facts about the bumblebee

To many people a bee is a bee and they make no distinction between other species of bee and the bumblebee so it is good to know some facts about this beautiful species.

Here are a few facts about the bumblebee

  • The bumblebee does not swarm
  • The bumblebee is not aggressive
  • Only female bumblebees can sting
  • They only sting when under threat
  • They do not die when they sting
  • They are hairier than the honey bee
  • More suited to cooler climates
  • They live in small nests
  • They have smelly feet
  • They are awesome pollinators
  • They live in smaller groups than the Honey bee

I have placed two links in this section that will take you to other hubs that are facts about bumblebees and if you have found this section interesting you will enjoy the links.

The link hubs have some additional information that expands on what you have read here and also some facts that are not mentioned here.

Pollen on the bumblebee's legs

Pollen on its legs

Pollen on its legs

Bumblebees have smelly feet

Bumblebees collect nectar and pollen from flowering plants, the nectar is a source of carbohydrate and the pollen protein.

The bumblebee has hairs on its back legs, it gathers the pollen off its body hairs, and it packs it into these hairs, which are known as pollen baskets to take it home to the nest.

Bumblebees pack their pollen baskets with pollen and can carry back to the nest anywhere between 25% and 75% of their own body weight this way.

In the photograph above, you can see this bee’s pollen basket.

From their feet the bumblebees secrete a scent with which they mark the flowers they have visited and harvested.

Any bees that visit a flower that another bee has harvested can tell right away from the scent which the bee left on the flower.

This saves the bumblebee’s time and energy, because they waste neither on flowers that another bee has visited.

Although the female bumblebee does not normally sting unless it feels threatened, if they do sting they can sting more than once.

This is because the bumblebee has a smooth stinger, which it does not leave behind after it has stung its victim.

This means that the bumblebee can sting and not leave the stinger in its victim’s skin so the bee survives.

The honeybee however is not so fortunate because it has a barbed stinger that rips off when the honeybee stings its victim.

If you see someone with a stinger in them after they have been stung, you can often see that the stinger carries on pumping the venom into the victim for a while after it rips from the body of the bee.

Some of the bumblebees I encountered in Suffolk


The Queen Bee

In the spring, mated Queen Bumblebees will emerge from their places of hibernation and start to search for a suitable place to begin build their nests.

The Queen is looking for a dry dark cavity ideally that already has some suitable dry grass or even a space that has fibreglass insulation.

The Queen will often choose places like an old abandoned mouse nest in which to build her nest because it already has all she is looking for in a nest.

When the Queen emerges from hibernation it is important that she replenish her energy so along with searching for a nesting site she also forages for food.

Once she has found a suitable site, the Queen begins immediately to build her nest. The nest of the Bumblebee is very chaotic compared to the orderly hives of the honeybee.

The Bumblebee Queen starts building the nest on her own and once she had regained her strength the Queen will begin laying eggs normally in small batches of 4 to 15 at a time.

The Queen deposits the eggs on a bed of pollen balls, which she will then cover over with a building material that is a mixture of pollen and wax to make brood cells.

In a bumblebee nest there will be brood cells in different stages all together and among these brood cells will be nectar or honey pots that the queen has made out of pollen and wax, in which to store the honey/nectar.

The Workers

Before the first batch of eggs hatch, the Queen is doing every job that needs doing in the nest.

The Queen is constantly on the go, collecting pollen, nectar, building and rebuilding, feeding the bee larvae, and general housekeeping.

The queen only leaves the nest to forage for short periods of time usually less than thirty minutes. She does not stay away for longer because the nest needs to be kept at about 30 degrees or the larvae will die.

When the temperature begins to drop in the nest the Queen generates heat to bring the temperature back up.

She does this by disconnecting her wings from her flight muscles and vibrating her flight muscles so raising her temperature until it reaches the 30 degrees necessary. This is like putting your car into neutral and revving the engine.

Around 20 days after the Queen lays her first batch of eggs the first worker bees will begin to emerge.

Up to this point the Queen was on her own doing all the work necessary in and out the nest.

Once the workers emerge the Queen will stay in the nest laying eggs and maintaining the nest.

Bumblebees are very industrious and they are also very good at recycling, they will often reuse the building materials used in one area of the nest when they are building something new.

Wax and pollen are the building material that they use to build the brood cells that hold the bee larvae. The larvae eat the walls of their brood cells so worker bees are constantly rebuilding the walls of these cells.

Once bees hatch out, the old empty brood cells will become storage places to put the pollen in.

Bumblebee nest near its end

Thank you for visiting

This is only a very brief look into the life of the British bumblebee but I hope that you have enjoyed taking a peek at the British Bumblebee with me and thank you for visiting.


maggs224 (author) from Sunny Spain on September 15, 2012:

Hi Eddy, I am so glad that you enjoyed it, thank you so much for commenting it is lovely to see your name in the comments.

I hope life is treating you well and that you you and family enjoy the weekend maggs :D

maggs224 (author) from Sunny Spain on September 15, 2012:

Hi Mhatter of course they do these particular ones buzzed with a broad Suffolk accent lol...

I am glad that you found it informative than you so much for your comment it made me smile :D

Eiddwen from Wales on September 15, 2012:

Brilliant Mags as always and enjoy your weekend.


Martin Kloess from San Francisco on September 14, 2012:

Do they buzz with an accent? :)) Sorry about that.

Informative article. Thank you

maggs224 (author) from Sunny Spain on September 14, 2012:

Hi Frogyfish now that is a video I would have liked to have had of you with a bee in your curlers dancing around trying to get it out lol…

I am so glad that you enjoyed the bumblebee facts and my photographs, purple is my favourite colour so I like the purple flowers too

maggs224 (author) from Sunny Spain on September 14, 2012:

Thank you so much for your comment Audrey I am glad that it has answered some questions for you, bees are such fascinating little insects and I find myself learning something new about them continuously. I am pleased that you enjoyed learning about their smelly feet and their hairy legs. It is strange to think how those two things can be positive attributes in one species and yet a negative one in another lol…

Thanks for the share it is greatly appreciated :D

maggs224 (author) from Sunny Spain on September 14, 2012:

Thank you so much CloudExplorer for your lovely comments I am very flattered by your compliments thank you also for sharing I really appreciate you doing that too.

I am so happy that you enjoyed the hub and the photographs and I am glad that you found the bumblebee facts interesting, warm regard from a happy maggs224 :D

maggs224 (author) from Sunny Spain on September 14, 2012:

Thank you so much Audrey for your comments I am so pleased that you enjoyed the hub, it is a pity that bees are having such a hard time and are on the decline in the USA as well.

frogyfish from Central United States of America on September 14, 2012:

Now I have seen a bumblebee tongue...and I never knew they had one. And I want to know who smelled their feet...surely they are not stinky? Very much enjoyed your information and descriptions.

The video sound reminds me of a time when I got a bumblebee caught in my hair curlers - and nobody would help me get it out. It must have been a dear, because it did not sting me in spite of my whapping around.

I loved your macro bee pictures and the purple flowers!

Audrey Hunt from Pahrump NV on September 14, 2012:

I've wondered how bees gather pollen. I thought they used their mouth :) Good thing I studied your hub and learned that it's their hairy, smelly feet. You explain it all so clearly with your amazing Photography. Just gorgeous. I have learned so much. Great hub and will share.

Mike Pugh from New York City on September 14, 2012:

Now this is a truly powerful hub on British Bumble Bees, wow!

I love all the imagery, and I learned a great deal of information here about how these Bees search for food, nest, and their activities with that cool brood cells and worker bee stuff.

I will definitely be sharing this hub Maggs, it was sensational even if it took me a long time to get through it all, it was truly worth the read.

I also love the way you explain things, you have a way with words that make it all crystal clear, and without any misunderstandings.

Your writing level is far beyond the average, and I noticed that about you the first time I joined hubpages, and was so happy to meet great authors such as yourself. Awesome stuff!

Oh and great job on the debunking of them not so obvious false facts, that many people assume is true all the time, and merely by listening to rumors about bees in general.

Audrey Howitt from California on September 14, 2012:

This is such a beautiful hub Maggs! Unfortunately bees are on the decline in the US as well--sharing this piece out in the world!

maggs224 (author) from Sunny Spain on September 14, 2012:

Thank you for the info I have been and read your hub and I have put a link to it from mine, your link is in the Bumblebees on the Decline in Britain paragraph about halfway down. From looking at your hub titles I would say that we have a lot more in common than the bees :D Thank you again for your interesting comments and for putting me on to your bumblebee hub it was fascintating.

Nettlemere from Burnley, Lancashire, UK on September 14, 2012:

Hi Maggs - I have a hub called bumblebee nest in my shed which you'd be most welcome to visit. The only thing I haven't done yet is update it with pictures of the 'dead' nest - the colony died about 10 days ago so I'm hoping the queens have gone of+f to hibernate for the winter. It's a little early, but it has been so wet over here that they would have struggled to feed in recent weeks I suspect. I opened up the nest and it looked like there were 50 cells which is a good size. I've been reporting my findings to the ongoing bee conservation trust project.

Nice to meet a fellow bee enthusiast.

maggs224 (author) from Sunny Spain on September 13, 2012:

Wow Nettlemere you are really quick off the mark I have only just published, thank you so much for commenting I really appreciate it.

I am so jealous of your nest in the shed, have you taken and posted any photographs on the web? If you have I would love to see them.

I am fascinated by bees I would love to have a nest like you have I would be there with my video and still camera all the time.

Nettlemere from Burnley, Lancashire, UK on September 13, 2012:

You've taken some lovely pictures of them and included interesting facts. I've been enjoying watching bumblebees very much this year having had a nest of WTBBs in my shed.

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