There’s been a lot of news about the bee kill in Wilsonville Oregon where over 25,000 bumble bees died from a pesticide sprayed on trees. Some of the articles I read displayed an embarrassing ignorance of bees, including one photo that was supposed to show a bumble bee and showed wasp instead. (The caption called it a bumble bee)
So I thought I might put together a short piece about bumble bees to share with everyone. Bumble bees winter by hibernating in a pile of leaves, an old mouse hole, under wood piles or deep into the base of a bush, grass plant or fallen tree.
New queens, produced at the end of the previous summer, emerge in early spring and begin searching for a nesting site, such as an abandoned rabbit burrow, mouse hole, or a pile of leaves in the bottom of a hedge.
The queen will lay fertilized eggs (usually about 6) and keep them warm with her body heat. When the eggs hatch the queen forages for pollen and nectar (dandelions are a great source of food for her) and raises her daughters through several larvae stages, and a pupa stage. It takes a month or so for the first new bees to hatch.
Due to the limited early spring food supply her first daughters are likely to be small, but they become the forages for food and the queen now spends most her time in the nest raising more young. Throughout the summer more daughters emerge and the colony grows.
By mid summer the queen lays eggs that will not only become daughters, but males as well and in late summer they leave the hive to mate with other bumble bees. (The males do not have stingers) These newly mated queens feed heavily in preparation for hibernation. The males die. (Fun while it lasted I guess.) The old queen does not usually live past late summer or fall.
In the spring these round, fuzzy balls of yellow will emerge from their winter homes and begin the cycle all over again. Bumble bees are not aggressive. If you find a nest just leave it be and slowly back away. You can also provide habitat and food for bumble bees by leaving a small portion of your yard or garden un-mowed with some leafy debris remaining. And remember, dandelions are a favorite food. Leave some about and be careful about spraying them. Cutting them out with a knife is preferable or you could unknowingly be contributing to your own small scale bee kill like described in the article below.