Insect of the Week: the Bumble Bee

Adapted from pages 674-675 of Garden Insects of North America

Bumble bees are large, fuzzy bees brightly colored black with yellow and/or orange. Like honey bees, they are social insects that produce a colony, usually in an abandoned rodent or bird nest where there is insulating material they use to surround the nest. Bumble bee colonies are abandoned at the end of the year, however, and only new, large, fertilized queens survive the winter. The queen establishes a new colony in spring, conducting all chores of foraging, hive construction, and rearing. The first workers produced are usually quite small, but they assist the queen as the colony develops. As the colony grows, worker size tends to increase and some reproductive forms (queens, males) are produced toward the end of the season. 

A bumble bee (Bombus vosnesenskii). Photo credit: Whitney Cranshaw.

Bumble bees are native insects, with close to 50 species in North America. Many are important pollinators, and they have a unique method of acquiring pollen from some plants, known as buzz pollination, which shakes pollen from some kinds of flowers. The collected pollen is then packed into pollen baskets on the hind legs, in a manner similar to honey bees and others in the family Apidae. Bumble bees are used extensively to pollinate greenhouse-grown tomatoes, and many native plants are dependent on buzz pollination for seed set. Bumble bees sting readily in defense of their hive but are nonaggressive while foraging. The sting is painful, but the stinger is not left behind.

Garden Insects of North America: The Ultimate Guide to Backyard Bugs
Second Edition
By Whitney Cranshaw & David Shetlar

This second edition of Garden Insects of North America solidifies its place as the most comprehensive guide to the common insects, mites, and other “bugs” found in the backyards and gardens of the United States and Canada. Featuring 3,300 full-color photos and concise, detailed text, this fully revised book covers the hundreds of species of insects and mites associated with fruits and vegetables, shade trees and shrubs, flowers and ornamental plants, and turfgrass—from aphids and bumble bees to leafhoppers and mealybugs to woollybears and yellowjacket wasps—and much more. This new edition also provides a greatly expanded treatment of common pollinators and flower visitors, the natural enemies of garden pests, and the earthworms, insects, and other arthropods that help with decomposing plant matter in the garden.

Designed to help you easily identify what you find in the garden, the book is organized by where insects are most likely to be seen—on leaves, shoots, flowers, roots, or soil. Photos are included throughout the book, next to detailed descriptions of the insects and their associated plants.

An indispensable guide to the natural microcosm in our backyards, Garden Insects of North America continues to be the definitive resource for amateur gardeners, insect lovers, and professional entomologists.

  • Revised and expanded edition covers most of the insects, mites, and other “bugs” one may find in yards or gardens in the United States and Canada—all in one handy volume
  • Features more than 3,300 full-color photos, more than twice the illustrations of the first edition
  • Concise, informative text organized to help you easily identify insects and the plant injuries that they may cause


This post is part of a series, explore additional posts here<< Insect of the Week: Locust BorerInsect of the Week: the Green Lacewing >>