The secret life of fat bees

Fluffy, cute, fat bees which can sting you badly – Bumblebees. They are one of the best pollinators in the world and since they are not domesticated, they life is quite a mysterious for most of us.

Bumblebees are one of the best pollinators in the wild
Cute little fluffy bumblebee (Bombus sp.)

Where bumblebees live?

Bumblebees are found only in the wild. Usually they form their nest underground in the abandoned (or not) caves of rodents, other insects or natural gaps in the soil or elsewhere.

I can guarantee that no one ever seen the hive full of bumblebees. Why? Bumblebees as well as they “close relative” honeybees live in colonies. However, they are much smaller – only a few hundred individuals. Furthermore, the colonies are formed only during the warm season and when the winter comes all bumblebees must die. Only the fertilized queen (or a few queens) survives the winter.

Common carder nest
Disturbed underground nest of bumblebees

Why only the queens survive the winter?

Probably no one ever tasted bumblebees honey. They are much worse honey producers than honeybees and prepare as much honey as they need in a short term: to sustain the colony, to ensure growth of the colony, drones (male bumblebees) and formation of new queens. There is not enough food for all the worker bumblebees and as a result they die off after the warm season.

How the new colony is established?

Types of bumblebees: queen, worker, drone.

After long and cold winter, the queen bumblebee is dormant. When temperature rise, they metabolism accelerates, and she is waking up. Bumblebees do not use old colonies and start to search a perfect spot to establish a new one. Queen bumblebee searches for it and when find it, she is starting to collect nectar and form the cocoons for the eggs. At the beginning she is laying only fertilized eggs and as a result only worker bees hatches from them.

When work force of the queen is not needed anymore for the colony, she becomes the prison in her own nest. Worker bees take care of cocoons formation, feeding of the queen and all she needs to do is laying the eggs. During mid-summer months she is starting to lay unfertilized eggs to produce male bumblebees which only task is to mate with new queens (hatched from fertilized eggs).

What about the stinging?

Even though bumblebees sting is classified as less painful compared to honeybees, they can sting multiple times. Usually they are quite friendly for other animals but attack fiercely when they nest is disturbed. Other reasons why bumblebees can sting are unpleasant perfumes, confusing accessories (they are critical for annoying appearance). Only female bumblebees have stings. Drones are born only for a mating – not defense.

The sting of the bumblebee
The sting of the bumblebee is well hidden between hair.

Conservation of bumblebees

Most of the pollinators as well as bumblebees are in a great population decline during last decades. In general, it is though that intensive use of pesticides, fertilizers and spread of infectious deceases are the most influential factors which lead to local extinctions of bumblebees and other pollinators.

How you can help bumblebees to survive? Plant blooming plants in your surroundings: catnips, sage, oregano, lavender, mint and sunflowers. Please try to avoid non-local plants to avoid invasion. Bumblebees are adapted to pollinate local plants so you will make they life easier.

You can try to install an artificial nest box for bumblebees. There are some made of wood, but you can also use old ceramic pots just putted upside-down on the ground.

bumblebee house
Ceramic pot used as a Bumblebee nest
Small hive
Small hive for a bumblebee family
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