Bumblebees

Bumblebees: Facts, Identification & Control

Scientific Name: Bombus spp.

Appearance / Identification

What Do Bumblebees Look Like?
  • Color: Bumblebees are large, fuzzy, very hairy insects that are black and yellow colored or in some species orange or red. 
  • Size: Size varies by species but adults may be up to a little over one inch long.  
  • Legs: Bumblebees have a large structure on their hind legs known as a pollen basket that is often loaded with pollen collected by foraging adults. 
  • Body: Female bumblebees have a stinger and a pointed abdomen, while males do not have a stinger and have a rounded abdomen.

They differ from carpenter bees, which have a solid black, shiny and hairless abdomen.

How Did I Get Bumblebees?

Bumblebee queens overwinter in the ground and when spring arrives, they emerge to begin forming new nest sites. Favored locations for nests are empty animal burrows and mouse nests near sources of food. Bumblebees depend on nectar and pollen, so they thrive in yards and gardens with plenty of flowers and other nectar producing plants.

How Serious Are Bumblebees?

Bumblebees are not as aggressive and likely to sting as are hornets and yellowjackets. Males cannot sting, and females only do so when they feel threatened. Their stings, however, are painful and could be dangerous to those with allergies. In addition, unlike honeybees, bumblebees are capable of stinging multiple times.

How Do I Get Rid of Bumblebees?

What Orkin Does

There may be times when it is necessary to use measures to control bumblebees. If so, control basically involves both proactive, preventive measures as well as the use of insecticides as the last resort. Some prevention and control measures that work well include:

  • An inspection and management plan prepared by your pest management professional. Always seek out the advice and assistance of your pest management professional before deciding to destroy a bumblebee nest. If control is necessary, your pest management professional will have the proper safety and control equipment to get the job done effectively and efficiently.
  • Sealing holes, cracks and gaps in structures so bumblebees are not able to build a nest in voids or other structure related locations. Sometimes, but not often, a new queen will use an old nest site to begin her new nest. Simply sealing the opening to the old nest will help prevent reuse.
  • Taking precautions to avoid locations that are close to the nest.
  • Using insecticide dusts or liquid sprays. Dust formulations applied at the nest entrance typically work best. While the nest opening should be sealed, wait until you do not see any bumblebees entering or exiting the nest.

The Orkin Man™ is trained to help manage bees of all kinds. Since every home or property is different, the Orkin technician will design a unique program for your situation.


Signs of Bumblebees

The presence of bumblebees usually involves actually seeing adults foraging for pollen and nectar among flowering plants on the property. Also, one might see bumblebee workers coming and going around the entrance into the nest site while sometimes gardeners who are working in the soil in late winter or very early spring may uncover overwintering queens.

Behavior, Diet & Habits

Where Do Bumblebees Live?

While various bumblebee species may choose different nest sites, they usually build their nest in dry, protected and hidden cavities either below ground, on the ground or close to the ground level. Typical places for bumblebee nests are abandoned rodent tunnels, behind structure siding where gaps and cracks allow entrance, under piles of wood on the ground, under piles of dead leaves and compost piles or even abandoned birds’ nests. The bumblebee queen that has overwintered in a protected location constructs the nest in the early spring and begins the new bumblebee colony.

Nests Bumblebee nests typically contain far fewer members than honeybee nests and usually number from 50 to about 400 individuals. The population size varies by the bumblebee species and environmental conditions. Bumblebee workers only live for about a month and spend most of their time foraging for plant nectar and pollen – their main source of food and the source of nutrition for immature members of the nest. Unlike carpenter bees, a species that property owners often confuse with bumblebees, they do not damage wood or other structural components.

Reproduction & Life Cycle

The bumblebee goes through a complete metamorphosis and includes eggs, larvae (grub), pupae and adults. A fertile female queen that has successfully survived the cold weather months in a protected location starts a new nest in the early spring months. Only the fertile queens that mated the previous year survive and thus bumblebee nests are begun anew each year. The queens begin the new nest by locating a suitable nest location, constructing the nest and laying eggs that will mature into adults that become the first generation of offspring. Also, the queen leaves the nest to gather pollen and nectar that she uses to feed to the larval (grub) stage members of her nest.

As the first generation completes their development into winged adults, these nest members called workers will assume the duties of nest maintenance, construction and collecting pollen and nectar to feed the nest members. At this stage the queen’s role is to continue producing and laying eggs since she is no longer responsible for food gathering and nest enlargement. As the size of the nest increases, toward the mid- to late-summer months the queen will also lay eggs that will become reproductive males and females rather than infertile workers.

The next major event in the life of the nest is when reproductive males and females mate and the fertile females then depart to find a suitable overwintering site where they will live prior to beginning a new nest the following spring. Bumblebees do not swarm like honeybees, but adult, male bumblebees may hover outside a nest as they wait for the reproductive females to emerge, so they can mate.

More Information

Confusion with Other Insects

Some people report seeing "black bumblebees." However, black bumblebee is not a common name that is approved and registered by the Entomological Society of America. Black bumblebee is likely a colloquial name that is incorrectly used to describe carpenter bees, black wasps or perhaps the black-tailed bumble bee (Bombus melanopygus) that occurs in the humid areas of the Pacific Northwest.

Do Not Disturb

Bumblebees, unlike yellow jackets and hornets, are not overly aggressive stinging insects. In fact, bumblebees rarely sting unless touched or their nest is threatened or disturbed. Therefore, if a bumblebee nest is discovered on your property, just leave it alone unless there is a good chance that your activities will take place near the nest. Foraging bumblebees will almost never take the time out of their busy day to intentionally sting someone or their pets. A few other reasons to accommodate a bumblebee nest is the their huge value as pollinators, the small size of their nest and short life when compared to other stinging insects such as yellow jackets and hornets.

Bumblebee Behavior Bumblebee Hives Bumblebee Sting Bumblebee Biology Difference between Bumblebees and Honey Bees