20 Fascinating Facts About Bumblebees

For the first time ever in the continental United States, a bee species — the rusty patched bumblebee — was placed on the endangered species list in the final days of the Obama administration. But along came Trump who the Humane Society of the United States had warned would be a “threat to animals everywhere” and, almost immediately, away went that bumblebee’s protection under the Endangered Species Act, at least for now.

Bumblebees and other bee species play a very important part in our ecosystems. A third of all the food we eat depends on their pollination. Here are some other interesting facts you may not know about them.

1. Bumblebees live together in a nest as a family group. They are among the most social creatures in the animal kingdom.

2. Each nest may have as many as 400 family members. A honeybee hive, by comparison, can hold 60,000 bees.

3. The nest is built close to the ground by the queen bee after she hibernates in a hole through the winter. Upon awakening, she groggily searches for flowers and drinks their nectar for energy (it’s apparently sort of like espresso for bees).

4. Once the queen finds a good spot for a nest, she collects pollen from flowers and lays eggs. For two weeks, she sits on the eggs and shivers to keep them warm, leaving them only to collect more pollen and nectar.

5. Those eggs become the queen bee’s daughters, who are always worker bees.

6. That’s right, queen bees can control the genetics of their offspring. How do they manage to do this? To have daughters, the queen bee uses sperm she has stored in her ovaries since mating during the previous summer. Male bumblebees have only one chromosome and therefore don’t need a bee daddy.

7. While their mom relaxes and lays more eggs, the worker bees perform chores like guarding and cleaning the nest, or collecting nectar and pollen as meals for themselves and the other bees in the family.

8. Toward the end of summer, the queen bee lays eggs that will become male bees and new queen bees.

9. When they’re fully grown, the male bees fly off, never to return to the nest. The new queen bees also fly off to mate, but may return to the nest at night.

10. After mating, male bumblebees die. Bummer, bees!

11. To prepare for hibernation, each new queen bee fills up on pollen and nectar. Then she finds a hole in the ground and drifts off to her long winter’s sleep, leaving her mother and worker bee siblings behind in the nest to die.

12. Unlike honeybees, which die after they sting, bumblebees can sting more than once. But they only do so when they are agitated, so stay away from their nests.

13. The length of their tongue varies among different bumblebee species so they can feed from flowers of different shapes.

14. Bumblebees are covered in an oil that makes them waterproof.

15. They leave smelly footprints on flowers. This lets other bees know they shouldn’t bother looking for nectar there. The footprints also help bees find their way back to their nests.

16. They flap their wings 200 times per second, which comes in handy when it gets hot inside the next. As many worker bees as needed will then hover near the entrance and provide natural air conditioning to keep the temperature at exactly 86 degrees Fahrenheit.

17. Because of their speedy metabolism, bumblebees must eat almost constantly. “A bumblebee with a full stomach is only ever about 40 minutes from starvation, according to Dave Goulson, a scientist and author of the book, “A Sting in the Tale: My Adventures with Bumblebees.”

18. The largest bumblebee in the world is the giant bumblebee (Bombus dahlomii), which lives in South America and whose queens have the nickname “flying mice.”

19. Like the rusty patched bumblebee, many bumblebees are listed as endangered, vulnerable or near threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resource’s Red List of Threatened Species.

20. I’ve saved the best fact for last. We can all do our part to help save bumblebees by growing bee-friendly native plants and not using pesticides. To help scientists track and conserve North American bumblebees, we can participate in the citizen science project Bumble Bee Watch.

Photo credit: Mikkel Houmoller

119 comments

Marie W
Marie W1 years ago

Thanks for posting.

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Sarah Hill
Sarah Hill1 years ago

Patricia Harris is right. Thanks for the information.

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Melania P
Melania Padilla2 years ago

Animals and nature are so amazing; such a shame not everyone sees it :(

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Maggie Davey
Maggie D2 years ago

Even though I react badly to being stung, I love to see the bumblebees nest in our garden each year.

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jessica r
jessica r2 years ago

I hope everyone understands how important they are.

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Patricia Harris
Patricia Harris2 years ago

I just found out another interesting fact about bumblebees! According to scientists, based on it's big body and tiny wings, a bumblebee shouldn't be able to fly.

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oliver mally
oliver mally2 years ago

tnx for that article!

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Arlene C
Arlene C2 years ago

Merci Laura

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Elaine W
Elaine W2 years ago

Bumblebees are an all around wonder and a treasure.

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Patricia H
Patricia Harris2 years ago

Son Y, Ron G isn't the only one who held a bee! ;) When I had a swimming pool, I found a bumblebee floating in the water (still alive) and I just took my finger out close to it, and it grabbed on. Then I put it on a flower to dry off. And then it took off.

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