Name: Bombus

Alias: The Bumblebee

Super Power: Buzz Pollination

Activity: Early spring through late fall

Favorite plants to pollinate: All of them!


What Is The Bombus?

Bombus is the bee genus known by the common name of bumblebee. Bumblebees are in the Apidae family, which contains the western honey bee. Bombus contains over 250 known species of bumblebees. Bees in the Bombus genus are indigenous to the northern hemisphere, as well as South America.

This map indicates the regions of the world that species of the bombus can be found.


Just like the leafcutter bee, the mason bee, and the honey bee, bumblebees are long-tongued bees. And similar to these other types of bees, bumble bees feed off of nectar and pollen; making them valuable pollinators. Also like honey bees, they have pollen baskets, where they can carry pollen that they collect. They cover large areas, much as honey bees do, and are not picky about the types of flowers they visit, as some types of bees are.


The Buzz Behind The Bombus

But Bumblebees do something that none of the other long-tongued bees can do. They ‘buzz’ pollinate. Buzz pollinating consists of the bee grabbing onto a bloom antlers, disengaging their wings, and then vibrating the muscles that usually control their wings. This has the effect of violently shaking the flower to release pollen, which then coats the bumble bee’s hairy body.That’s why the bumblebee is believed to be so very hairy (See the link showing buzz pollination taking place at the end of this article.).


Many plants are most effectively pollinated when buzz pollinated. Buzz pollination of such plants greatly increases size, quality, and quantity of the fruits and vegetables from these plants. Nightshade (including tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, potatoes, tomatillos, and ground cherries) and many species of the genus vaccinium (blueberry,  cranberries, bilberries, and huckleberries) are a few examples of plants that benefit from buzz pollination.


Seasons of the Bombus

Bumblebees are active in their environments from early spring when the queen emerges from the nest, through late fall, when temperature become too cold for them to fly. Bumblebees usually live in small colonies (most often between 50 and 200 bees), and subsist on nectar and pollen. Like honey bees, bumblebees have a queen who will populate the colony and the bees secrete wax, which they use for a variety of reasons. They fashion the wax to cover their eggs and make cocoons where larvae are incubated. They even use this wax to make a place for worker bees to store nectar and pollen to be consumed by developing larva and mature bees, and even use wax to enclose their nest when needed. Nests are often found in the ground, in hollow spaces in wood, and even in grass and other vegetation. A cluster of crudely fashioned cells, bumblebee nests are crude when compared to the regular hexagonal cells constructed by the honeybee. Also, unlike honey bees, bumblebees only store only enough food to last a few days at a time, whereas honey bees need enough food stores to get the queen and a significant amount of the hive through winter and into the spring.

Bumblebee nest
Honey bee nest


The Cold and the Bombus

The bumblebees also differ from other bees in that they have the lowest chill-coma temperature. This is the temperature at which a bee can no longer fly. That means that when all the other bees are done for the season, bumblebees keep on flying late into the fall, when a newly formed queen mates with drones and then consume large quantities of food, giving her the resources to hibernate through the winter. Unless the bumble bees are in a very temperate climate, only the new queen will survive until the spring, where she emerges, to start the process all over again.


Living With Bombus

If you encounter a bumblebee nest or have one your yard, be aware that bumblebees can sting. But they won’t do so if you leave their nest alone, and don’t swat at them. If you do get stung, breath easy, since the stinger is barbless, and won’t stay in your skin. On the other hand, it also means that the bumble bee does not die when it stings, and it can sting more than once, so move away from them.


And finally did you know that their coloring and markings can be used to distinguish different species of bumble bees, and the species seen vary from area to area. Below, we have included links for identification of different bumblebee species, as well as general information about bumble bees. How many have you seen?


Classification and identification of bumblebees

Bumblebees of the Western United States

Bumblebees of the Eastern United States

More about bumblebees

video showing buzz pollination


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