Saturday, April 28, 2007
I painted my house the other day and learned that Bumble Bees don't like to be disturbed. So, I thought I would give you a bunch of information on these bright flying insects.
Bumble bees are large, attractive insects that are of interest to children, scientists, beekeepers, naturalists, conservationist, home gardeners, farmers and commercial bumble bee breeders. There are several bumble bee species found in South Carolina which vary in size and coloration. These highly beneficial insects pollinate many native plants, home-grown fruits and vegetables and agricultural crops. Though bumble bees are highly social insects, their colonies are not perennial in nature as honey bees. They do not store a surplus of honey, which can be harvested. Bumble bee populations in nature fluctuate from year to year depending on many factors including weather, parasites and predators.
Bumble bees are large robust insects with black and yellow coloration. The bumble bee has a black or yellow hairy abdomen, which is a character that can be used to differentiate it from a carpenter bee, which has a black, shiny, hairless abdomen. The foraging bumble bee has a large pollen basket on each hind leg that is often loaded with pollen. The bumble bee queens are typically twice a large as workers or males. A female bumble bee has a pointed abdomen with a stinger. Males do not have a stinger and the tip of the abdomen is rounded.
The bumble bee colony is made up of three types of individuals (queen, undeveloped female workers and males). Bumble bees produce annual colonies in South Carolina. Only the mated queens overwinter (survive the winter). Nests are started in early spring by these solitary, fertilized queens. These queens are often seen feeding on spring flowers or searching for a suitable nest site. Normally, nests are established in an abandoned rodent or bird nest in the ground. The solitary queen begins the colony by collecting pollen and forming it into a small lump. She lays six to eight worker eggs on this pollen. After four to five days, the eggs hatch into larvae (immature forms), which begin to feed on the lump of pollen. The young larvae receive all the fats, minerals, proteins and vitamins that are necessary for growth from the pollen. The queen collects more pollen and nectar to feed this first brood cycle. It takes about 21 days to develop from egg to adult. Once the first brood develops, they take over all the colony duties, except egg laying. The adult workers defend the colony, collect pollen and nectar, and feed the larvae. Nectar is collected and stored in small sac-like "honey pots" built from wax and pollen. The workers enlarge the nest and by midsummer the colony will have 20 to 100 workers. The colony produces reproductives (new queens and males) in late summer. They leave the nest to take mating flights. The successfully mated queens fly to the ground and hibernate 2 to 5 inches deep in the soil. The production of reproductives signals the end of the colony’s life. The overwintering queens emerge the next spring to complete their life cycle.