Identification and Life Cycle
Bumblebees (Bombus Spp), are also known as “humble bees”. These social bees are commonly mistaken for carpenter bees. Bumble bees are gentle, slow and harmless, but can be aggressive if they feel threatened.
They are large, round, and fuzzy, and approximately 3/4 to 1 1/2 – inches long. Bumblebees are generally black and yellow in color, often with an orange or white band at its tail end.
In early spring, you may see the queen bees flying around the early blooming flowers searching for nectar and pollen to turn into honey. They will produce enough to only feed their young. The queen will then locate a suitalbe site to build her nest in the ground. The most common nesting sites are in old rodent burrows, clumps of dry grass, wood chips, compost piles, old logs, and under large, flat stones.
She starts building a new nest with a ball of pollen and wax into which she lays approximately 6 eggs. Once hatched, they eventually pupate. A nest may contain up to 300-500 bees. Toward the end of summer, males and new queens develop. After mating, the new queen(s) burrow into the ground where she spends the winter months hibernating. The remaining workers and male bees die out in the fall.
Habits and Damage
Bumblebees live in colonies and are active during the day. Although most colonies can include a few hundred bees, a thriving colony can have as much as up to 2,000 bees. Each member of the colony has an important role. The queen is responsible for reproducing while the male drones fertilize the queen, and the workers maintain the hive. Bumblebees will never use an old nest. The queen will build a new nest at a different site each year
Although bumblebees are important pollinators, the queen and worker bees are capable of stinging and can be very aggressive around their nesting sites. Unlike other types of bees, they can sting more than once. To some individuals, bee stings can cause a life-threatening allergic reaction. If its nest is located near a building, home or walkway this can be a problem. Never attempt any control measure yourself if you have a known allergy to bees.
Bumblebees cannot cause structural damage to your home, but can be a stinging pest to people and pets. Take caution when mowing fields, or trimming weeds near common nesting sites such as wood piles. The male bees hatch in mid-summer, so you may see a sudden increase in their numbers. However, the male bees do not swarm and are not capable of stinging.
COMMON SIGNS OF BUMBLEBEE ACTIVITY
- Nests in the Ground. They prefer to nest in the soil under clumps of dry grass and under flat stones as well as abandoned rodent holes.
- Visual Sighting. They can be typically seen in gardens collecting food or traveling to and from their nest.
- Hovering Bees. These bees have a characteristic loud buzzing sound as they go from flower to flower around your home or garden collecting nectar and pollen.
Prevention and Management
The best strategy for Bumblebees is prevention. An Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program can help control bees by targeting the most common sites that these insects are attracted to.
The following tips are recommended to help prevent or reduce a potential problem with Bumblebees.
- Clean up clutter, unwanted mulch or other organic material that can attract bees to build a nest.
- Inspect your yard yearly for areas that could provide a nesting site for bees such as rodent holes, high grassy areas, under shed floorboards, and large flat stones.
- Call a professional to identify the bee. Many people confuse the bumblebee with the carpenter bee, which can be an aggressive bee when protecting its nest. They can bore holes in unfinished wood surfaces and cause damage to a structure over time.
The following prevention techniques are suggested to avoid attracting bees when outdoors.
- Avoid fragrances. Bees can be attracted to sweet scents. When staying outdoors, avoid fragrances such as hair spray, lotions, scented soaps and oils.
- Don’t wear bright clothing. They can be attracted to the colors.
- Take caution with sweet drinks & foods. Bees can climb in soda cans and juice boxes unnoticed and are attracted to foods such as jelly.
Bumblebees are rarely a problem, but action does need to be taken when a nest is near a location that is harmful to people or pets. If it is not a threat, then leave the nest alone.