4 What Bumble bees Will You Find in Cape Breton?

What do you call a bee that can’t make up their mind? A maybe

 


 

To the best of our knowledge, bees have been present on earth since the early which occurred about 130 million years ago. Scientists believe that during a global cooling period, favoured bees that were able to withstand colder temperatures. And so, a genus of bee that was able to adapt and live in cooler environments evolved over several generations. The Bombus genus consists of both true bumble bees as well as the subgenus Psithyrus which are commonly known as s.

True bumble bee s emerge from their winter burrows in early spring and they create their own nest and caste of female s. Cuckoo bees, however, emerge later in spring and summer than their true bumble bee counterparts. At this time, true bumble bees have already established their nests and have hatched a number of worker bees. Cuckoo bees then usurp the true bumble bee queen and steal her nest and caste of worker bees. The cuckoo bee then lays her own eggs and becomes the new queen of the true bumble bee workforce who then raise her young for her.

Today, there are about 250 known species of bumble bee around the world.  In this chapter, you will learn how to identify the different bumble bees found in Cape Breton using the skills you have already learned.

Interested in learning about other bumble bees you will find in North America? Bumble bee watch is an excellent online resource for naturalists who are keen to learn more about bumble bee identification. The images below that display characteristic traits of bees are courtesy of their online bumble bee species identification guide.

Yellow-banded bumble bee (Bombus terricola)

Bombus terricola Source: Bumble Bee Watch (2021), view page.

The yellow-banded bumble bee is currently listed as a Species of Special Concern by which stands for the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. This means that a group of experts have determined that this species is at risk due to a variety of environmental conditions.  You can still find them in Cape Breton, however, it has become increasingly difficult for them to thrive in urban environments. You’re more likely to find yellow-banded bumble bees in wild meadows and other areas that have not been heavily impacted by humans.

How to identify: These bees are easily distinguished from other bumblebees in Cape Breton due to their distinctive yellow black banded pattern. This pattern is unique to Bombus terricola as no other bumblebee has a similar pattern. These bees love fireweed and you’ll often find them on it in July.

Where can you find them: Yellow-banded bumble bees are normally found in rural or wild areas that are not disturbed by the presence of human activity.

 

Yellow-banded bumble bee. Source: mkkennedy (2020), view page.

 

Bombus ternarius Source: Bumble Bee Watch (2021), view page.

Tri-coloured bumble bee (Bombus ternarius)

Tri-coloured bumble bees are one of the easiest bumble bees to identify. The tri-coloured bumble bee is a very common bee that you can find foraging on many of plants as well as non-native plants that you may find in backyard or community gardens.

How to identify: These bees have a mainly yellow with a black downward facing arrow that points towards the . The abdomen is yellow, then orange, then yellow again.

Where can you find them: Tri-coloured bumble bees are very common and you can find them just about anywhere! You can find these bees in both urban and rural areas as well as in wild areas.

Tri-coloured bumble bee. Source: Brian Starzomski (2019), view page.

Red-belted bumble bee (Bombus rufocinctus)

Bombus rufocinctus Source: Bumble Bee Watch (2021), view page.

Red-belted bumble bees can vary in appearance. These bees are fairly common and can be found on flowers such as St. John’s Wort.

How to identify: For the most part, these bees have a yellow with a black ovular shape in the center of the thorax. The first two on the bumble bee’s are yellow followed by orange and then black.

Where can you find them: Red-belted bumble bees are common in urban and suburban areas as well as local parks.

 

Red-belted bumble bee. Source: Clayton D’Orsay (2018), view page.
Bombus borealis Source: Bumble Bee Watch (2021), view page.

Northern amber bumble bee (Bombus borealis)

The northern amber bumble bee is one of the larger bumble bees that you will find in Cape Breton. These bees are commonly found foraging on New England Aster, tufted vetch, and such as bee balm.

How to identify: These bees have a yellow face with a black band between their wings. The rest of their body is a yellow amber-ish colour with the exception of the sides of the bee’s body which are black.

Where can you find them: Northern amber bumble bees can be found in urban and suburban environments but also in some rural and wild areas. Generally, you can find these bees around aquatic environments such as lakes, rivers, and oceans.

 

Northern amber bumble bee. Source: Steven McGrath (2020), view page.
Bombus fervidus Source: Bumble Bee Watch (2021), view page.

Golden northern bumble bee (Bombus fervidus)

These larger bumble bees look very similar to the Northern amber bumble bee and therefore it is important to pay close attention to the key identification characteristics when trying to identify an individual.

How to identify: The golden northern bumble bee has very dark black wings which stand out against its mainly yellow body. These bees have a black face as well as a stripe of black between their wings and on their last of their . Younger bees can have bright yellow hairs on their bodies whereas older workers will be more pale yellow in colouring. Unlike the northern amber bumble bee, Bombus fervidus has yellow colouring along the side of its body.

Where can you find them: Golden northern bumble bees are normally found in urban and suburban environments

 

Golden northern bumble bee. Source: Steven McGrath (2018), view page.

 

Golden northern bumble bee. Source: Steven McGrath (2018), view page.

Pyrobombus

Pyrobombus is a subgenus of bumble bee which consists of 43 different species of bees. In some cases, bees in the subgenus Pyrobombus have to be examined under a microscope in order to properly identify them. This can make identifying these bees in the field very challenging, therefore, to prevent the risk of misidentifying these bumble bees, we will focus on the identifying characteristics of the subgenus Pyrobombus as a whole instead of the individual species found in Cape Breton.

For reference, there are four species of bumble bee within the Pyrobombus subgenus in Cape Breton: the common eastern bumble bee (Bombus impatiens), the perplexing bumble bee (Bombus perplexus), the half-backed bumble bee (Bombus vagans) and the two-spotted bumble bee (Bombus bimaculatus).

How to identify: All of these bees are identified by notable characteristics such as a mainly yellow with yellow on the first one to two on the .

Common eastern bumble bee Perplexing bumble bee Half-backed bumble bee Two-spotted bumble bee
Source: mkkennedy (2019), view page. Source: Steven McGrath (2020), view page.                 Source: Cody Chapman (2020), view page. Source: Jeannie Fraser (2020), view page.

Fernald’s cuckoo bumble bee (Bombus fernaldae)

The Fernald’s is a member of the subgenus Psithyrus. As previously mentioned, these bees emerge from their winter burrows later in the season so you’re more likely to see them in summertime as opposed to spring. This cuckoo bumblebee chooses the red-belted bumble bee or the perplexing bumble bee as their host species

How to identify: The Fernald’s cuckoo bumble bee has a yellow with a black ovular shaped marking on the center of the thorax. The first segment of the is yellow followed by two black , then one yellow segment with the end of the abdomen being black. Like all other cuckoo bumble bees, the Fernald’s cuckoo bumble bee does not have .

Where can you find them: Fernald’s cuckoo bumble bees are normally found in wild areas that are not disturbed by human presence.

 

Fernald’s cuckoo bumble bee. Source: Clayton D’Orsay (2018), view page.

Gypsy cuckoo bumble bee (Bombus bohemicus)

Bombus bohemicus Source: Bumble Bee Watch (2021), view page.

This bumble bee is currently listed as endangered by as it is the cuckoo bumble bee associated with yellow-banded bumble bees. Since their host species is in decline, so is the gypsy cuckoo bumble bee. These bees have not been seen in Cape Breton in about two decades; therefore, if you find one it is very important that you share your findings.

 

Gypsy cuckoo bumble bee. Source: Claude Nozères (2020), view page.

How to identify: The gypsy cuckoo bumble bee has black face colouring with yellow hair colouring on the part of the near the . This is followed by black hairs then some yellow hairs (usually lighter in colour) leading towards the back of the thorax. The is mostly black with light white/yellowish hairs on the last few of the abdomen. This species lacks on their legs as they do not bring pollen back to the nest. The true worker bees of the host species (in this case the yellow-banded bumble bee) forage for them.

 

Gypsy cuckoo bumble bee. Source: Claude Nozères (2020), view page.

Where can you find them: As previously mentioned, gypsy cuckoo bumble bees are an endangered species and if you find one it would be quite a rare find! If you do want to look around for this at risk bee, rural and wild areas where yellow-banded bumble bees are found would be a good place to start looking.

 

 

 

Source: Wildlife Preservation Canada (2020). View Site.

 


 

Let’s put what we have learned thus far to the test. In this matching quiz, can you identify the species of bumble bee in each photo?

 

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