Bumblebees

Bumblebees, Bombinae, are insects with membrane wings – Hymenoptera, from the family of bees – Apoidea. The characteristic representative is the earth bumblebee – Bombus Terrestris.

Every fall, with the first chills, impregnated queens are looking for a place to safely hibernate. If you happen to find a living, but sleepy queen, in a bundle of leaves, leave her be in peace. If awaken too early, she will surely die from cold. Cover her gently with leaves and wait a few months for the warmer days to come. Smiley

Bumblebee during collection of nectar and pollen.

Bumblebee during collection of nectar and pollen. Photo by Tamas Nyari.

The nest is usually spherical with only one way in. In her new nest she lays about six eggs in a ball of nectar and wax and builds a semicircular cup of wax all the way to the exit and fills it with nectar. When the eggs hatch, the larvae try to penetrate their way out trough the reserves of pollen, but the queen continues to add new layers as the larvae feed and grow. These larvae are fully developed into completely grown up drones (female) in just a few days. As soon as their wings dry out, they start to support the colony and the queen. She continues to lay eggs, and since it takes up more and more of her time, the task of collecting the pollen and the nectar is dependant solely on the drones, and the queen starts to spend her entire time in the nest. The drones are similar to the queen, but a bit smaller. At the time of its highest activity, the nest reaches a diameter of 120 millimeters becoming the size of an apple.

The nest develops until it reaches its appropriate size. Usually that happens in late spring or early summer. As the summer closes to an end, the queen starts to lay unfertilized eggs which are later developed into male drones. At the same time she lays eggs that are fertilized, from which new queens develop. The mating happens shortly after young queens mature.

One more busy fatty. Smiley Photo by Tamas Nyari.

Male drones are characteristic because they have no sting. After they grow, they leave the nest in an independent search for an unfertilized queen. Their only role is the continuation of their species.

Unlike bees, young queens will stay in the colony to collect the nectar and pollen for the rest of the summer and fall. When the weather starts to change, young and fertilized queens leave to find a safe and warm place to make it through the winter in hibernation.

With the first bigger chills all male and female drones and the queen die. Only the fertilized young queens in hibernation will survive the winter and resume the life cycle in spring.

The amount of honey which the bumblebees produce is too small for industrial exploitation, but they are one of the most important pollinators. As such, they have no rivals. They are equally effective and systematic. They search the flowers from bottom to the top, so that they can avoid visiting the same flower twice. Bumblebees direct themselves by scent. A full flower has a much stronger scent than an empty one. They are much larger than the other insects, which enables them to visit more plants and flowers in one minute, about 20 – 30 usually. Because of their size they have better contact with the stamen and pestle. They have pollen bags on their rear legs. The climate has a far lesser effect on them than on the other pollinators. They stay active even if the temperature is around 5°C and the light is faint. Even the rain and the wind don’t have much effect on them. Their build and modifications enables them a broad specter of activity. They are one of few insects who can control their bodily temperature. They do it by shaking their flight muscles – producing heat, and their furry coats which serve as insulators are also helpful. These adjustments enable them to live in colder areas and on higher ground.

Human is the bumblebee’s greatest enemy. They can’t stand the chemicals used on crops to prevent other wrongdoers because they have a similar metabolism. Pesticides which are harmful for the bumblebee can hurt humans and other mammals if the dosage is large enough. Mostly it’s poisons which affect the nervous system.

Bumblebee sniffs a flower. Photo by Tomasz Frankowski.

Since the natural pollination with help of the bumblebees is more profitable, today they are used to pollinate the greenhouses and fields. Young bumblebee colonies can be bought and taken to the area that needs to be pollinated. On the target surfaces, the use of other insects which feed on vermin is recommendable (ladybird for instance eats plant aphides) to avoid the use of chemicals.

There are parasitic bumblebees as well, who parasite the nests of non parasitic species. Such bumblebees do not posses pollen bags, so they can’t gather it from flowers. They kill the nest queen, and force the drones to raise parasitic bumblebees.

There was a lot of discussion about the bumblebees if they have some sort of a “dance” like bees. Some explorers have noticed matching attitude changes if the bumblebee finds an area with a lot of flowers. It is suspected that they use pheromones to communicate with each other.

Bumblebees are good hearted, becoming and very useful bugs that aren’t nearly as aggressive as bees or wasps. If a bumblebee ever starts to buzz around you, don’t wave with your hands because you’ll only frighten him. Let the bumblebee smell you. When he finds out that you’re not a flower, he’ll fly away. Smiley