There are almost 250 species of bumblebees across the world, found predominantly, but not exclusively, in the Northern Hemisphere. There are over twenty different species of bumblebees in Britain, but only six species make up the vast majority of sightings in Britain today. These are the
- Common Carder bee
- Red-tailed bumblebee
- Early nesting bumblebee
- Buff-tailed bumblebee
- White-tailed bumblebee
- Small Garden bumblebee
Bumblebees are social bees, meaning that the queen will produce a colony that increases in size, as opposed to solitary bees, who will only lay a few eggs each year in small nests. All bumblebees, apart from the queen, only live from spring to autumn.
The queen will hibernate over winter, usually underground, and emerge in spring to start looking for a place to nest. This could be a small hole underground, perhaps a nest abandoned by a mammal. It will likely be located quite near a good source of pollen and nectar, because this will be needed to feed the colony as it develops.
Once the queen has the nest to her liking, she will build a wax honey pot to fill with pollen and nectar. This will act as her food source while she incubates her eggs. Then she will form a mound of pollen upon which to lay her eggs, covering them with a waxy secretion. The queen will brood over the eggs, using her body heat to keep them warm and incubate them.
The eggs hatch in a few days, and the queen will begin foraging among nearby plants for pollen to feed the larvae until they pupate. Once the pupae emerge as adult bumblebees, they will become worker bees. From then on, the queen will concentrate on laying more eggs, and the workers will forage and help incubate them. In this manner, the colony increases in size over the summer months.
Toward the end of summer, the queen will start laying some unfertilised eggs which will become male bees, and some of the regular fertile eggs will become new queens. When the new queens are mature and ready to mate, the old queen will die. After mating, the males die and the new queens will find a place to hibernate for the winter so they can start the cycle anew the following spring.
Bumblebees have been around for millions of years, but their numbers are declining dramatically. Just within the past several decades, two species have gone extinct in Britain. They are important pollinators of wildflowers and crops, and our world would be a very different place – and far fewer humans would survive – without them. It is in our best interests to help their numbers thrive.
Bumblebees are generally harmless. They can, but usually won’t, sting unless they are provoked or disturbed. However, if they are causing problems near your home, we can help. Because bumblebees are so vitally important to us all, we will try to re-home the bees if at all possible, rather than destroy them.