Species Profile: Bumblebees

“And, like a miniature helicopter, a small, furry, orange, black, and yellow object zooms out of the forest, lands on a rhododendron bush, and flits in apparent great haste from flower to flower. “It is a queen bumblebee. – Bernd Heinrich (Bumblebee Economics).  


  • Bumblebees are important pollinators in the genus Bombus, part of Apidae, one of the many Bee families.
  • Many people identify bumblebees due to their trademark colours black and yellow but that isn’t always the case. The colouring depends on the species of Bumblebee. The colour of the tail, for example, varies, and in some species is brown or reddish such as the red-tailed bumblebee.
  • Bumblebees are generally insects of temperate regions.
  • A bumblebee’s lifespan ranges from 2 to 12 months according to species.


  • The name bumblebee was first recorded in 1530, 80 years after humblebee was first given as a name for the group.
  • Bumblebees are not native to Australasia. They were introduced there when settlers discovered that none of the native bees could pollinate the red clover plant that had previously been introduced.


  • All bees feed on the nectar of flowers, and feed the larvae on pollen mixed with honey.
  • The bee’s hairs are its pollen-collecting kit.
  • Pollen is very rich in protein.


  • Bumblebees can pollinate by a special process called buzz pollination. This is when the bees emit a high-pitched whine by rapidly contracting their wing muscles whilst rapidly running over the flower. The vibrations cause the release of a cloud of pollen from the flower that then sticks on the body of the bee.
  • Bees and plants have a symbiotic relationship meaning a close relationship between two species where at least one species benefits.
  • 75% of crops benefit from pollination.


  •  When a bumblebee flies, its hair builds up a static charge.
  • A bumblebee flies at up to 200 wingbeats per second.


  • All bumblebees have to maintain a high body temperature to remain active.
  • Most bumblebees are covered in dense fur. This insulation as well as their size means bumblebees are capable of endothermy (endotherm meaning those that maintain a constant body temperature independent of the environment).


  • Majority of bees are solitary
  • They are generally very docile. They do not form swarms like other communal bees. Only female bumblebees have stingers.


  • A queen can lay between 200 to 400 eggs
  • The queen of Bombus Terrestris (Buff-tailed bumblebee) like the queen of several other bumblebee species dominates her workers partly by pheromones. (a pheromone is a chemical substance produced and released into the environment by an animal affecting the behavior or physiology of others of its species).
  • The queen loses control over the workers at a certain stage of colony development. An introduced dominant worker will then take her place and become “the false queen”.


  • Bumblebee workers vary considerably in size and in general, it is the larger workers that do most of the foraging. The smallest bumblebees never leave the nest.  Larger foragers can operate at lower ambient temperatures.
  • Bumblebee workers are infertile females with only two roles in life: to gather food for the colony and to tend its grubs.

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