Bumblebees

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Identification

  • Colour Black and yellow
  • Size 10 to 25 mm in length
  • Description Bumblebees are beneficial social insects known for pollinating crops and wild plants. They are found throughout Canada in abundance. Of the over 200 known bumblebee species worldwide, approximately 50 are found in North America. Bumblebees are sometimes mistaken for the carpenter bees. Bumblebees have hairier bodies than carpenter bees, which have a solid colour and possess solid black abdomens. Bumblebees are annual nesters that build new nests each spring as opposed to reusing ones from the previous year.

General Facts

Bumble bees are beneficial social insects known for pollinating crops and wild plants. They are found throughout Canada in abundance. Of the over 200 known bumble bee species worldwide, 50 are found in North America. Bumbles bees are sometimes mistaken for the carpenter bees. Bumble bees have hairier bodies than carpenter bees, which have a solid colour and possess solid black abdomens. Bumble bees are annual nesters that build new nests each spring as opposed to reusing ones from the previous year.

Appearance

The bumble bee differs in appearance from most bees found in Canada. They are relatively large and robust, measuring between 15 and 25 mm in length. Bumble bees have black bodies covered in numerous black, yellow, and sometimes orange hairs called setae, which normally form a banded pattern and the fuzzy appearance typical of bumble bees. The insect possesses chewing mouthparts, four wings, and 12 to 13 segmented antennae. Bumble bees, like honey bees, possess structures known as pollen baskets on the hind legs, which are used to collect pollen when foraging. Only female bumble bees have a stinger, which sits at the end of a pointed abdomen. The abdomen of the male is more rounded.

Habitat

Bumble bees mainly live in temperate climates. Certain species can also survive in relatively colder climates and at higher elevations than most other types of bees. The insects prefer to nest in the ground, but some may nest in the eaves of homes, holes in trees, hollow logs, and rotten stumps. Ground-level hives may occur in naturally formed depressions or in abandoned rodent burrows or bird nests.

Diet

Bumble bees need a relatively varied diet to survive. Flowering plants serve as the most common food source for the insect. The bee takes nectar from flowers, and the sweet, sugary carbohydrate acts as fuel for the body. Bumble bees also eat pollen, which serves as the main source of protein in their diet. Larvae eat a combination of pollen, nectar, honey, and other floral oils, sometimes called bee bread.

Life Cycle/Reproduction

The bumble bee is a social insect and builds a nest each spring. A solitary fertile queen awakes from overwintering to start the new colony and carries out the initial tasks of foraging, laying eggs, and caring for preliminary broods. Like most other insects, bumble bees start as eggs that hatch into larvae, which then pupate and emerge as adults. All fertilized eggs become females, which in turn serve as worker bees and take care of each new brood while the original queen continues to lay eggs. Conversely, all unfertilized eggs become male drones. The sole purpose of the drone is to mate with new queens. A typical bumble bee nest is smaller than the nests of other bees in the Apidae family and sometimes contains as few as 100 individuals. Typically, only newly mated queens survive to start new colonies the following year.

Problems Caused by Bumble Bees

Bumble bees are beneficial and less aggressive insects. They only become a problem when provoked. The most significant danger bumble bees pose is the threat of stinging, though the insects typically only sting when defending the nest. Unlike other bee species, bumble bees can sting more than once, as the stinger is smooth, contains no barb, and typically will not fall off or get stuck in the skin. The sting of a bumble bee may be painful and could lead to hospitalization if the victim is allergic to bee venom. Although they are commonly mistaken for carpenter bees, bumble bees typically do not damage manmade structures even when nesting near homes.

Detection/Signs of Infestation

Bumble bees typically nest on or below the ground but may still find opportunities to come into contact with humans. The insects expand the nest as the colony grows and may interfere with efforts to mow or treat the yard. Homeowners may notice visible wax, developmental cells, and honey stores, which sometimes appear similar in size and shape to brown or orange grapes arranged in small bunches. Similar to other bees, the bumble bee makes an audible buzzing sound and may swarm, though typically only when defending the nest. The most regularly occurring sign of a bumble bee infestation remains sighting the nest or the bee itself.

Bumble Bee Stings

Simply put, bumble bees can sting. Queens and workers possess stingers, while hive drones do not. Since bumble bee stingers do not have barbs like honeybee stingers, they are capable of stinging multiple times. However, bumble bees will sting only if the safety of the hive is threatened, they feel trapped, or if humans attempt to touch or handle them.

Symptoms of Bumble Bee Stings

A non-allergic reaction causes symptoms like swelling, itching, and redness around the site of the sting. In general, the symptoms only last for a few hours. Occasionally, the swelling and redness will spread and last for a few days. It is rarely cause for alarm but can result in a secondary infection. In such cases, it is advisable to see a healthcare professional.

Dangers and Basic Treatment

Approximately one percent of bumble bee stings cause an allergic reaction in highly sensitive individuals. Symptoms may include hives over the entire body, vomiting, diarrhoea, difficulty breathing, heart palpitations, fainting, dizziness, sweating, and cold shivers. Based on the severity of the symptoms, affected individuals may choose to contact a doctor for advice or visit a hospital for the administration of an antihistamine. Although one allergic reaction does not necessarily mean a person will experience the same reaction from future bee stings, symptomatic individuals should consider getting tested for a bumble bee venom allergy and exploring various treatment options.

Prevention

To avoid being stung, refrain from stepping on or otherwise threatening bumble bee nests. When in the presence of solitary bees, refrain from panicking or handling the stinging insects. Odours like alcohol, perspiration, perfumes, scented soaps, aftershave, and similar smells can trigger aggressive reactions.

 

Why do I have bumblebees?

Bumble bees typically nest on or below the ground but may still find opportunities to come into contact with humans. The insects expand the nest as the colony grows and may interfere with efforts to mow or treat the yard. Homeowners may notice visible wax, developmental cells, and honey stores, which sometimes appear similar in size and shape to brown or orange grapes arranged in small bunches. Similar to other bees, the bumble bee makes an audible buzzing sound and may swarm, though typically only when defending the nest. The most regularly occurring sign of a bumble bee infestation remains sighting the nest or the bee itself.

How worried should I be about bumblebees?

Bumblebees are beneficial and less aggressive insects. They only become a problem when provoked. The most significant danger bumblebees pose is the threat of stinging, though the insects typically only sting when defending the nest. Unlike other bee species, bumblebees can sting more than once, as the stinger is smooth, contains no barb, and typically will not fall off or get stuck in the skin. The sting of a bumblebee may be painful and could lead to hospitalization if the victim is allergic to bee venom. Although they are commonly mistaken for carpenter bees, bumblebees typically do not damage man made structures even when nesting near homes.

How can I prevent bumblebees invading?

To avoid interactions with bumblebees, home and business owners should continually get rid of all organic debris from yards and areas close to the structure. Bumblebees may also nest in hollow spaces on decks, patios, and even in the eaves of the home. In order to successfully handle a bumble bee infestation, consider contacting a pest control specialist with the knowledge, experience, and equipment to remove the insects from homes and businesses safely.

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