Introducing: The Funny Fuzzy Bumblebee

SPRING IN THE WILDLIFE GARDEN brings one of my favorite small visitors, the bumblebee. These bulky (for bees), furry little creatures are a never-ending joy as they gather nectar and pollen in the garden, buzzing around from dawn to dusk starting in early spring and continuing on until the first cold.

The numerous species of bumblebees (which can be distinguished from one another both by size and by their black-and-yellow markings) are important pollinators. Those “fur coats” they wear allow them to do their “work” in much lower temperatures than many other pollinating insects, such as honeybees. Most bumblebees are also native, which honeybees are not.

Unless you happen to be allergic to bumblebee stings, there’s little reason to be concerned about getting stung by a bumblebee. Bumblebees are very gentle creatures that ordinarily will sting only if their nest is threatened (and sometimes not even then). Unlike honeybees, they do not have barbed stingers that they leave behind when they sting; so even if a bumblebee does decide to sting you, the sting is likely to just cause a little swelling and redness and heal up quickly. In many years of working in the garden surrounded by bumblebees, I've only been stung twice, both times because I had inadvertently disturbed a nest. Both times the sting was more surprising than painful.

One of the joys of watching bumblebees in the garden is that they are likely to live out their entire lives in your vicinity. Although bumblebees live in communities the way honeybees do, unlike honeybees they do not keep the same nest from year to year. Worker bumblebees all die at the end of summer, with the coming of the first frosts, leaving only mated queens to carry the colony on.

Over the next few days, I'll be telling you more about bumblebee lives and about how to attract bumblebees, so that you can enjoy watching them in your garden.
This series of posts on bumblebees is taken from an article I originally wrote for Northwest Garden News.


jodi said...

these postings are lovely, Flora...I'm very partial to bumblebees too, and can't wait to see them. There were some kinds of creatures around the crocus and heath at my friend's nursery today, but I couldn't decide if they were honeybees or bee-mimics. One photo I took looked like there was pollen near the back--but I'm really not sure.
Coltsfoot in bloom around here. If it's warm tomorrow after my talk I'll go a-hunting for bumblebees.
I've only been stung once, and it's cos I stepped on the poor little guy, while wandering around in my bare feets....I would have stung me too!

cheers, jodi

Wild Flora said...

Hi Jodi, and thanks as always for your comments. I too have a black and yellow friend visiting my crocuses. Counting wings (two for a fly and four for a bee), I was prepared to say "hover fly pretending to be a bee" (my friend Tim calls these "wanna-bees"). But they were packing pollen on their hind legs; also, I happen to know that honeybees are very fond of crocus pollen, so that made me think "honeybee." After comparing photos in the Wikipedia, I've decided that my guest (and probably yours too) was a honeybee. (Apparently the second set of wings is just not highly visible.) I'm going to change the caption on the photo of the "bees" on the sunflower that I published earlier--contrary to what I originally said, those may well be honeybees, not flies.
Cheers back,