Bumble bees are native to Canada. In North America overall, there are 46 species of bumble bees, and world-wide around 200 species. In fact, these insects are found all throughout the Northern Hemisphere in all different types of environment, including the Arctic tundra. Bumble bees, like honey bees and carpenter bees, belong to the genus Bombus in the family Apidae. They are generalist foragers, which means they don’t depend on any specific flower types for their survival and live on a varied diet of nectar from flowers and pollen.
Bumble bees are very powerful pollinators of agricultural crops and wild flowers due to their ability to fly at lower light levels and cooler temperatures and ‘buzz pollination’. Buzz pollination is a specific behaviour they engage in where they latch onto a flower with their jaws and then vibrate their wing muscles to dislodge and release the pollen from the flower’s anthers, which is not accessible otherwise. Buzz pollination brings huge benefits to many types of wildflower plans and agricultural crops like peppers, tomatoes, and cranberries.
Bumble bees can be identified by their black and yellow colouring, antennae wings and large round furry or fuzzy bodies. They range in size from 13 to 25 mm in length. Their bodies are actually black, with many yellow, black, and even orange hairs (setae) that together form a banded pattern. Only female bumble bees have stingers, and they are smooth. When agitated, a female bumble bee can and sting, and can do so repeatedly because their stinger is not barbed like other bee species, so it will not get stuck in the skin of a person or animal. Bumble bees have 4 clear wings, with black veins, chewing mouthparts, and pollen baskets on their hind legs (which is how they collect pollen whenever out foraging)
Bumble bees are social and live in colonies with a caste system. They commonly nest in the ground, but not always. Bumble bees have also been known to nest inside hollow logs or holes in trees, rotten stumps, rock walls and even within the eaves of a structure, like a home or business or in hollow spaces on decks and patios. Bumble bee nests are built within a cavity capable of housing 50 to 500 bumble bees (colonies are not as large as other species of bees). These insects favour natural depressions in the earth, and abandoned bird nests and rodent burrows. They also do not reuse nests each year, rather they build a new nest each spring.
The average life cycle of a bumble bee is 1 year, and they go through four stages - egg, larva, pupa, and adult. Most of a bee’s life is spent passing through the first 3 stages. An adult bumble bee may only live for a few weeks or months before it passes, except for female bumble bees who will become future queens. Females and drones will mate in the fall, and the drones die soon after. At the early onset of winter, newly fertilized queens will leave the nest and find shelter to overwinter until spring.
Upon awakening from overwintering, the fertile queen bumble bee will be responsible for building the new colony of bumble bees. She will start to build a nest, forage, lay eggs, and care for initial broods. Her fertilized eggs will emerge as female bees, who will become workers and care for future broods. Later in her life cycle, her unfertilized eggs emerge as male bees, also called drones and whose main purpose is to mate with future queen bumble bees.
Bumble bees do not make large amounts of honey, rather just enough to ensure their colony is fed during its life cycle. Because a bumble bee colony dies at the end of its growing season, except for the fertilized queen, who hibernates over the winter, there is no need for a large amount of honey to survive.
The most common signs that you may have a bumble bee infestation include:
Because bumble bees can and will nest in organic debris, regularly removing and disposing of these materials from their property, especially from directly around their home or business. Disposing of abandoned bird nests and filling in known abandoned rodent or animal burrows will also help remove favourable cavities needed for nesting.
Bumble bees are not often an issue unless they are nesting close to a home or business in areas where there is high human activity. They also typically do not bother people unless they are provoked and are trying to defend their nest.
However, because these are stinging insects and allergic reactions post sting are possible, addressing a bumble bee infestation is best left to a professional. Even if no allergic reactions come from a sting, their sting itself can be very painful, and they can sting repeatedly which raises concern.
If you discover an active bumble bee nest on your property and are concerned, contact a pest control company, like Environmental Pest Control, who has decades of experience with bee control.
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