1 A bumble bee’s life

How do bees go to school? On the school buzz!



A northern amber bumble bee seen foraging on black knapweed.Source: David McCorquodale (2020), visit site.

It is important to understand a bumble bee’s life cycle for many reasons. Firstly, knowing when bumble bees are active will help us know when to find them! This is essential if we are trying to protect a species at risk. For example, if we know when bumblebees should be emerging from their nests in spring, we can go out and try and find them in the wild! This is very helpful for scientists who are trying to gather data on bumblebee populations.

Secondly, understanding the life cycles of bees is important if we want to document how species are reacting and adapting to . Are queen bumble bees emerging from their burrows earlier or later than they have in the past? When do we start seeing the queen’s first batch of workers? Is this timing different compared to previous years? These questions can give us an idea of how a species of bumble bee is performing despite the impact of climate change and other environmental and human-related disturbances.

The life cycle of a bumble bee. Source: Bumble Bees of Wisconsin (2021), visit site.


Bumble bee Life Cycle

May until June: Queen bumble bees awaken after spending the winter months underground. A queen spends her time searching for a nest site and on flowers. When she finds a nest, she will lay a brood of eggs and she will take care of them until they become mature adults (female workers). It is important to note that these queen bumble bees are much larger than your average bumble bee.

A queen bee observed in early May. Source: David McCorquodale (2020), visit site.

Mid-June until Early August: In the early summer months, all of the bumble bees you’ll see are female workers (plus the original Queen) who are busily working to keep the colony in tip top shape. Some workers take care of the nest on the home front whereas others head out to forage on flowers and return to the nest with valuable resources; nectar and pollen! The queen stays in her nest laying eggs during this time. At this time, there are dozens to a few hundred small worker bumble bees in a nest. This is why you’ll see more bumble bees during this time of year.

A red-belted bumble bee seen foraging in summer. Source: David McCorquodale (2020), visit site.

End of August until Early September: By the very end of August, we start to see male bumble bees out and about. Males leave the nest right away and do not return. At this time, the worker bumble bees are much larger than the ones we saw during the peak summer season.


A male tri-coloured bumble bee. Source: David McCorquodale (2020), visit page.

Mid-September until October: By late September, we see a few lingering workers, some gynes searching for nests, and wandering males. A male bumble bee’s role is to mate with the potential queens (gynes). After they mate, the potential queens burrow underground for the winter until spring.





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