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Bumble Bees Honey Bees

Bumblebees have black and yellow body hairs, often in bands. Some species are known to have orange or even red on their bodies, or may be entirely black.

Bumble bees do not produce enough honey for commercial use, just a few grams at a time to feed their young. Like their relatives the honey bees, bumble bees feed on nectar and gather pollen.

Not all bumble bees have a sting. The drones have no sting at all.

A bumble bee's biggest enemy by far is pesticides. Like every other form of wildlife they are under serious threat from the chemicals we pour on the land.

Bumble bees are much less aggressive than honey bees. Generally they will not attack unless they feel life threatened.

Bumble bees do not lose their sting and die if they use it, as a honey bee will.

Bumble bees are social insects.They form small colonies and have a queen. Because the colonies are small, they never swarm.

In autumn mated young queens seek out a place to hibernate in safety. In spring the large slow-moving queens will fly around bulbs and flowers searching for nectar and pollen to turn into honey and food for their newly hatching brood.

The queen will find a suitable place to build her nest. There are over 200 types of bumble bee and they look for a variety of sites. Common sites are leaf litter, old mouse holes, or any sheltered, cool dark place.

The queen begins the nest with a ball of pollen and wax into which she lays approx 6 eggs at a time. When the eggs hatch they try to eat their way through the pollen reserve but the queen continually adds to the pollen and wax sealing them in. Eventually the grubs pupate and the queen spins a bright yellow cocoon of the finest silk from which the grubs emerge a few days later as fully grown worker bees.

These worker bees begin work to support the colony and their queen by gathering nectar and pollen while the queen continues to lay eggs. The queen spends her whole time in the nest.

When the nest has reached the right size for its species, the queen lays the eggs destined to become next year's queen bees as well as drones (male bees). The drones, once hatched, leave the nest and live independent lives. Their only purpose is to mate with the young queens to ensure the survival of the species. Unlike honey bees the young bumble queens will continue to live and work in the mother colony for the rest of the summer and autumn.

When the temperature falls, the old queen, her workers and the independent drones will die. Only the newly mated queens will survive in hibernation to begin the cycle again the following spring.

Honey bees are honey-coloured with a few scanty hairs, a small waist and a sting.

They are found in gardens, orchards, woodland and meadows where flowers are abundant.

They become active in spring and search for nectar and pollen from which they make their honey.

Their nests are made up of a queen, workers (sterile females) and drones (males). The nest is made from wax secreted from glands on the underside of the worker bees' abdomens. Females place nectar and pollen in cells for the developing larvae. Colonies may live for many years because the colony lives on stored reserves of food and the bees huddle together in one large mass during the winter. The drones are thrown out in autumn to die since their reproductive role is over.

In summer special large chambers are produced that will contain new queens. The larvae that live in these new chambers are fed only on a high protein substance called royal jelly,which is secreted by the workers. It is given in small quantities to all the larvae during the early stages of their life, but is fed to the queens for nearly all their lives.

Due to this diet of royal jelly, the larvae in these special chambers develop into queen bees. When the larvae have pupated into adult queens they are overweight and unable to fly. They are then fed on normal food to prepare them for a mating swarm. The bees also make large chambers for the male bees (drones). The drones hatch from unfertilised eggs.

Worker bees guard the entrance of the nest to keep out intruders. Unlike wasps, bees can only sting once. This is because their stings are attached to their intestines. The stings are barbed and get caught in their victim. When the bee pulls away the sting is left in the victim still pumping its venom. This damages the bee and it subsequently dies. Like wasps, the bee's venom contains an alarm pheromone which stimulates other bees to attack.

  What an inspiring and highly unusual sight - bumble bees mating. The two bees were seen in flight, the drone caught up with the much larger queen, grabbed her and stopped flying. She could hold both of them in the air and landed in the grass as shown in the photo. The queen is massive, about 40mm long, some three times the size of the drone. Click on photo for larger image.

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