Bumblebees are a genus of insects belonging to the bee family. There are over 250 species of bumblebees in the world. The best known are the bumblebee species that build nests. Our German word Hummel comes from Low German, where it means “summer”.
Bumblebees live in a temperate or cool climate, as known in Europe. In really cold climates, such as the arctic or high mountains, bumblebees are often the only insects in their family. They also live in America, Asia, and northern Africa. For example, they only came to New Zealand because people settled bumblebees there.
Compared to honeybees, bumblebees are significantly larger and thicker. They have more and longer hair all over their bodies. It’s three million hairs, the same as a squirrel’s – although the squirrel is much larger. Some bumblebee species have mostly black hair, but many have orange as well.
How do bumblebees live?
For the bumblebee’s nest, the “queen” is very important. This is a particularly large bumblebee that lays eggs. New queens, called young queens, hatch from some of these eggs. From others come female bumblebees, the workers. They will only be a few weeks old. Finally, there are the male bumblebees and the drones. Drones fertilize the young queens.
At the end of summer, the queen stops laying eggs. Soon there will be no more workers and drones, and no more food will come into the nest. The nest is said to be ‘dying’. It’s dead in September.
But the fertilized young queens survive, in hibernation. In spring they look for a small hole in the ground or in a tree trunk, or in an abandoned bird’s nest. That depends on the species. There they lay eggs, and a new bumblebee nest is created.
The field mouse is a dangerous enemy for bumblebees: In winter it scavenges dormant young queens in the ground. Other mammals such as badgers eat bumblebees in the nests. Above all, there are some bird species that like to eat bumblebees.
Which insects look similar to bumblebees?
A certain type of bumblebee is called a cuckoo bumblebee. They do something that other bumblebees don’t do at all: they lay their eggs in the nests of other bumblebees. They then take care of the young cuckoo bumblebees. This is similar to the cuckoo bird.
There are several types of carpenter bees that are similar to bumblebees. They are also quite fat and hairy. But they have different colors than the bumblebees.
The bumblebee hoverfly is one of a few species of flies that also look like bumblebees. This is no coincidence: these flies are actually rather harmless. However, because they look like the much more defensive bumblebees, enemies leave them alone.