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Queen Bumblebees Foraging

queen bumblebee 098Most bumblebees, unlike honeybees, die in the fall. Only the young, fertilized bumblebee queens overwinter. When they emerge early in the spring, each must start a new colony, with no help from worker bees. The queen builds a ball of moss, hair or grass, often in an abandoned rodent nest or small cavity. Within this ball the queen builds a wax honey pot, and provisions it with nectar from early-blooming flowers. Next, she collects pollen and forms it into a mound on the floor of her nest. She then lays eggs in the pile of pollen, and coats it with wax secreted from her body.

The queen bumblebee keeps her eggs warm by sitting on the pollen mound, and by shivering her muscles, raising her body temperature to between 98° F. and 102° F. For nourishment, she consumes honey from her wax pot, which is positioned within her reach. In four days, the eggs, all of which will become female workers, hatch. The bumblebee queen continues her maternal care, foraging for pollen and nectar to feed to her larvae until they pupate. After this first brood emerges as adult bumblebees the queen concentrates her efforts on laying eggs. Unfertilized female worker bees raise the larvae and the colony swells in number. At the end of summer, new queens (females) and males are produced in order to allow the colony to reproduce. After the new queens mate and become fertilized, the males all die, along with the female worker bees. The queen then seeks shelter for the winter. (Photo: Tri-colored Bumblebee queen collecting Trailing Arbutus nectar or pollen)

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7 responses

  1. Leonard & Meredeth Allen

    Absolutely fascinating!!

    April 27, 2015 at 11:19 am

  2. Amazing to learn they must start from scratch every year. Any idea how many new queens on average result from a colony each year? Where do they overwinter, underground?

    April 27, 2015 at 12:59 pm

    • No idea how many queens are produced in one hive, Eliza…good question! I think rotting logs are a favorite overwintering spot…I’ve found wasps behind loose bark on dead trees…

      April 27, 2015 at 1:36 pm

  3. Jean Harrison

    Gorgeous photo and fascinating text.

    April 27, 2015 at 1:47 pm

  4. Kathie Fiveash

    I’ve often watched early spring bumblebee queens patrolling the ground, flying close to the earth, investigating all the small holes and crevices, patrolling large areas. They seem to be utterly focused on this task, and ignore human observers.

    April 27, 2015 at 6:34 pm

  5. Doreen Morse

    When Fall comes, the the new Queens seek a Winter home; does the old Queen do the same and live for a second season ? If so, how many years does a Queen Bumblebee live?

    April 28, 2015 at 8:58 am

    • I should have made that more clear. The old queen dies.

      April 28, 2015 at 9:16 am

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