Bumble bees are an important part of the ecosystem as pollinators of food crops, trees, and flowers. Have you ever wondered what their life cycle is like or if they sting? Here are 13 facts about the bumble bee.
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Fact #1: Bees require a temperature of 50 degrees Fahrenheit or higher to fly easily without using up all of their nectar stores. But they prefer it hot: 80-90 degrees.
On a cool morning I’ve noticed bumble bees asleep inside a squash blossom, underneath a flower, or generally looking lazy.
Fact #2: Bees sleeping outside the nest will sleep under a flowerhead or inside a deep flower like a squash blossom where the temperature can be up to 18 degrees warmer close to the nectar source.
Fact #3: The bee asleep in the flower on a cool morning may be a female forager who got caught outside the nest when the temperature decreased rapidly. Her job is to forage for nectar and pollen and she stores it in (yellow) pollen baskets on her hind legs to take back to the nest.
Fact #4: Or the sleeping bee may be a male, for most males leave the nest just a few days after hatching, and do not return. Their job is to drink nectar all day and chase queens for mating. They spend the day marking objects in their territory with their scent to attract a female queen. Since they don’t return to the nest, they do not have pollen baskets on their hind legs.
Bumble Bee Reproduction
Fact #5: The queen gets to choose whether to fertilize eggs or not. She mates with a male, and stores his sperm in something called the spermatheca over the winter. The following year she can choose whether to fertilize the eggs she lays (which become worker females) or leave them unfertilized (which become males).
Do Bumble Bees Produce Honey?
Fact #6: Bumblebees create honey, but it is not substantial enough for cultivation.
Do They Sting?
Fact #7: Bumblebees are generally very docile, but they should still be given space and respect.
According to BumbleBee.org, a bee will stick up a middle leg if it’s annoyed by your presence, which means “back off!”. Otherwise they are docile to the point that you could usually handle one without negative consequence.
Fact #8: Only the females will sting, and they may be more aggressive if you find yourself near their nest. Bumble bees can sting repeatedly and will not die afterwards, since their stingers are not barbed and won’t dislodge from the body.
The honey bee on the other hand can only sting once because of the barbed stinger, and usually dies thereafter.
A Wake-Up Ritual
We happened to be watching some of our ‘Autumn Joy’ sedum flowers one weekend morning. They are full of Argiope aurantia spiders, and we like to watch the drama of predator-prey unfold on the flower heads between the spiders, the bees and moths.
At that moment some of the bumble bees that had been sleeping underneath the flower heads woke up. The sun must have just warmed the flowers to the right temperature at that very moment. When they crawled out from under the flowerhead, they did a little 1-minute dance to warm up and clean themselves from head to tail (so to speak), using their legs, much like a cat uses its paw to clean its head. It looked like windshield wipers when the bee was cleaning its back with its legs!
I didn’t catch the whole dance on video, unfortunately, because I didn’t have my phone on me. But this was too good, so I ran to get my phone and videoed the last 30 seconds of the cleaning ritual for you to see.
How to Help the Bumble Bees
Fact #9: Like other wildlife, bumble bees have to work harder than ever to find food and shelter due to habitat loss and the overuse of pesticides.
Fact #10: In the springtime, a queen emerges from solitary hibernation, and must have the energy to find food (flower nectar), build a nest, forage for nectar and pollen, and lay eggs. She expends an enormous amount of energy to get a nest going, and springtime flowers are really important if she is to survive.
Fact #11: Help provide spring nectar for the bumble bees. Try planting crocuses, virginia bluebells, comfrey (Here’s my post about comfrey), California poppies (Here’s the kind I buy), or columbine flowers.
Currant bushes (Here’s my post about growing currants), spicebush (I plan to plant lots of spicebush on my new homestead!), and hawthorn trees are popular spring bloomers, too.
Fact #12: In the fall, bumble bees need plenty of nectar sources so they can store enough for winter hibernation. The trouble is, most gardens are dying out by the time fall rolls around, and food is scarce.
Fact #13: Plant fall blooming flowers so the bumble bees have enough to forage from.
Fall blooming flowers to grow:
- lavender (I like English lavender)
- salvia (I like scarlet sage)
- wild geranium
- anemone (the pinks are my favorites)
- chives (Check out my 5 reasons to grow chives)
- cilantro (After they’ve bloomed, save the seeds!)
Have you found bumble bees asleep around your garden? What sources of early and late nectar have you provided for them?