There are over 200 types of bumble bee and in the first warm days of Spring you may see the large queens flying busily about the early bulbs and flowers. These large slow bees are searching for nectar and pollen to turn into food for their newly hatching brood. The queen will locate a suitable place to build her nest, and they look for a variety of sites. Most common are the leaf litter in the bottom of hedges, a cool dark place under a large stone or under the wooden floor of a shed or other building. Because the bumble bee does not live in a large colony the nest is usually little bigger than half a grapefruit even in the busiest days of high Summer. When the drones hatch in mid Summer the sudden increase in bee numbers frightens people who are nervous about insects. But remember these drone bees have no sting and they won’t swarm.
The queen begins a new nest with a ball of pollen and wax into which she lays just a few eggs at a time. When the eggs hatch they try to eat their way through the pollen reserve but the queen continually adds to the pollen and wax sealing them in. Eventually the grubs pupate and the queen spins a bright yellow cocoon from which the grubs emerge a few days later as fully grown worker bees.
As soon as they dry their wings the worker bees begin work to support the colony and their queen. She continues to lay eggs but as it takes more and more of her time the pollen and nectar collection is delegated to the workers, this type of co-operation continues throughout the late Spring and Summer until the nest has reached the right size for its species. At that point the queen lays eggs destined to become next years queen bees as well as drones or male bees. The drones once hatched leave the nest and live independent lives, their purpose being to mate with the young queens to ensure the survival of the species. Unlike honey bees the young bumble queens will continue to live and work in the mother colony for the remainder of the Summer and Autumn. The first sharp drop in temperature and frosts the old queen, her workers and the independent drones will die. Only the newly mated queens will survive in hibernation to begin the cycle again the following Spring.
SOME GENERAL INFORMATION
- Because bumble bees live in small nests they never swarm.
- Bumble bees do not produce enough honey for commercial use, just enough to feed their young.
- Not all bumble bees have a sting. Drones (smaller male bees that hatch in mid summer ) have no sting at all.
- A bumble bees biggest enemy by far is a man armed with a pesticide spray.
- Bumble bees are much less aggressive than honey bees. Generally they will not attack a human at all, unless their life is under threat.
- Bumble bees do not lose their sting and die if they use it, like a honey bee would.
- Encourage the bumble bee in your garden and she will repay your kindness by pollinating your flowers, fruit and vegetables and giving you an excellent set on your blossom.