Orange-Belted Bumblebees

orange banded bumblebee on flower
Orange-Belted Bumblebee Classification
Class: Insecta
Order: Hymenoptera
Family: Apidae
Genus: Bombus
Subgenera Pyrobombus
Species: B. ternarius

The orange-belted bumblebee is a tricolor bee that has black and yellow stripes on its abdomen as well as an orange band on its abdomen. Bombus ternarius is the scientific name of the orange-belted bumblebee, also known as the tricolored bumblebee.

Orange-belted bumblebees belong to the genus Bombus, or bumblebees, which are members of the tribe Bombini. Located higher on the chain of scientific classification, Bombus ternarius belongs to the subfamily Apinae, the family Apidae, and the order Hymenoptera.

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    Where Can Orange-Belted Bumblebees Be Found?

    The orange-belted bumblebee can be found throughout the northern United States and Canada. Typically, orange-belted bumblebees live in temperate climates farther north, but they are sometimes seen in climates further south. 

    It is possible to find orange-belted bumblebees as far west as Wyoming and Montana, as well as in New York, Pennsylvania, and Maine.

    Because orange-belted bumblebees live in such temperate climates, they are capable of thermoregulating through shivering. In order to fly, orange-belted bumblebees need a temperature of about 30 degrees Celsius. They raise their body temperature by shivering their thoracic muscles. 

    It is the result of the cold climates that orange-belted bumblebees live in that causes this adaptation.

    Why Are They Called Orange-Belted Bumblebees?

    Orange-belted bumblebees are so named because of the orange band on their abdomen. In scientific terms, orange-belted bumblebees are known as Bombus, which means buzzing, and Ternarius, which means something containing three elements.

    Bombus ternarius (orange-belted bumblebee) was named in 1837 by Thomas Say. In addition to the orange-belted bumblebee, he has named more than 1,000 species of beetles, 400 species of other insects, and a few species of snakes.

    How to Identify an Orange-Belted Bumblebee

    In order to identify an orange-belted bumblebee, look for its black or yellow head and yellow and orange segments on its abdomen.

    Although drone orange-belted bumblebees have yellow heads, their abdominal coloration is similar to that of workers and queens. Drones have longer hair than females.

    Orange-belted bumblebees can also be identified by their size, with drones ranging in length from 9.5 to 13 mm. A worker orange-belted bumblebee will measure between 8 and 13 millimeters in length, while a queen will measure between 17 and 19 millimeters in length.

    Orange-belted bumblebees have short tongues and cheeks. An additional characteristic identifying orange-belted bumblebees is their black abdomen ends.

    Orange-belted bumblebee pollinating a pink and orange flower
    Do you know that orange-belted bumblebees pollinate unintentionally? Pollen is picked up by their hairy bodies, and when they visit other plants, it falls off, thus assisting in pollination.

    An additional characteristic of orange-belted bumblebees is the pollen baskets at the ends of their abdomens. Depending on the type of pollen these orange-belted bumblebees carry, their pollen baskets will be colored differently.

    The most distinguishing characteristic of orange-belted bumblebees is their black facial hair rather than yellow or orange. This makes orange-belted bumblebees distinct from other bumblebee species.

    Bombus rufocinctus has a red color morph that can be confused with orange-belted bumblebees, but orange-belted bumblebees always have a yellow patch on their heads. 

    An orange-belted bumblebee can be distinguished from Bombus borealis by the large area of black on the rear of the abdomen.

    Where Do Orange Belted-Bumblebees Live?

    Orange-belted bumblebees live underground in pre-existing holes and crannies. After emerging from hibernation, the queen orange-belted bumblebee builds its nest and produces a waterproof coating to protect it from the elements. Within the nest, the queen orange-belted bumblebee creates waxy cells to store nectar and honey.

    The orange-belted bumblebee is an eusocial bee, which means that it lives communally with other bees in the same nest. Caste systems are used by orange-belted bumblebee colonies to divide labor among workers, drones, and the queen.

    Orange-belted bumblebee nests resemble small piles of dirt and leaves on the ground. The orange-belted bumblebee digs its nest and leaves piles of debris around the entrance.

    Orange-belted bumblebees often exploit pre-existing holes left by chipmunks or other rodents. [2]

    How Big Is an Orange-Belted Bumblebee Colony?

    A colony of orange-belted bumblebees consists of a queen, female worker bees, and male drones, and usually does not exceed 200 bees, with a minimum of 50 bees. [3]

    A colony of orange-belted bumblebees lives in one nest together and assists the queen with fertilization, incubation, and feeding of her eggs.

    orange belted bumblebee on red flower
    It is common for orange-belted bumblebees to nest underground in preexisting holes and crevices.

    In early summer, the majority of orange-belted bumblebees are female worker bees. The worker orange-belted bumblebee collects pollen and assists the queen in incubating her eggs. 

    As summer progresses, the orange-belted bumblebee queen lays unfertilized eggs that will develop into male drones.

    What Do Orange-Belted Bumblebees Eat?

    Adult orange-belted bumblebees primarily eat nectar and sometimes honey if nectar is in short supply. Pollen-containing proteins are collected by orange-belted bumblebee workers and are brought back to the nest to feed larvae and make honey. 

    A mixture of finished honey, newly collected nectar, and pollen is fed to orange-belted bumblebee larvae.

    Generally, orange-belted bumblebees collect nectar from milkweed, goldenrod, and berry bushes, including raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, and cranberries. It is preferable for orange-belted bumblebees to feed on flowers that are suitable for their short tongues.

    Pollen is collected by orange-belted bumblebees on the hairs of their bodies, primarily in their pollen baskets at the rear of their abdomens. Orange-belted bumblebees carry nectar in a pouch called a crop and bring it to their nest, where the larvae consume it.

    The orange-belted bumblebee produces honey by collecting pollen and mixing it with enzymes contained in its saliva. The result is a sticky substance that dries into honey.

    Do Orange-Belted Bumblebees Pollinate?

    All Bumblebees from the genus Bombus, including the orange-belted bumblebee, are pollinators. Orange-belted bumblebees are generalists, meaning they will pollinate a variety of flowering plants and bushes.

    In order to pollinate plants, orange-belted bumblebees have hairy pollen baskets that enable them to pick up and carry pollen back to their nest.

    Do Orange-Belted Bumblebees Make Honey?

    The orange-belted bumblebee does produce honey, but only in small quantities. Unlike honeybees, orange-belted bumblebees use honey to feed their larvae rather than as a winter food source. 

    During the drying process, nectar and enzymes in the honey are converted into excellent food for orange-belted bumblebee larvae.

    The orange-belted bumblebee builds waxy nectar pots in its nest in which it stores nectar. As bumblebees do not store food over the winter, their honey is exclusively used to feed orange-belted bumblebee larvae. 

    Typically, honey is not harvested from bumblebees such as the orange-belted bumblebee since they make such small quantities and do not store it during the winter months.

    Do Orange-Belted Bumblebees Sting?

    Workers and queens of the orange-belted bumblebee are capable of stinging, but this rarely occurs. [5] 

    It is pertinent to note that orange-belted bumblebees are non-aggressive and only sting to defend themselves. You can avoid being stung by an orange-belted bumblebee by simply leaving their nests alone.

    The simple act of brushing off an orange-belted bumblebee and walking away is all that is needed to stop them from stinging someone.

    Reproduction & Lifecycle of Orange-Belted Bumblebees

    Orange-belted bumblebees have annual colony cycles, with one generation per year.

    In the spring, the queen orange-belted bumblebee emerges from hibernation. In order to feed, they begin collecting pollen and nectar.

    A queen orange-belted bumblebee’s ovaries are stimulated by pollen, resulting in eggs that are laid on pollen balls.

    Orange-belted bumblebee queens can lay anywhere from four to sixteen eggs at a time on one ball of pollen. The orange-belted bumblebee eggs are then protected by a wax coating.

    A queen orange-belted bumblebee fertilizes most of the early eggs with stored sperm from drone bees, and these fertilized eggs grow into female worker bees.  To collect nectar for brooding her eggs, the orange-belted bumblebee queen visits up to 6,000 flowers each day.

    With the heat from its body, the orange-belted bumblebee heats its eggs, preventing the bare patch on its abdomen from touching them.

    In approximately five weeks, the eggs develop into larvae and pupae, and then emerge as adult orange-belted bumblebees.

    Workers begin to assist the queen orange-belted bumblebee in collecting nectar and pollen as soon as they hatch. Additionally, they will assist the queen with the incubation of new eggs and larvae.

    how to identify an orange belted bumblebee
    The easiest and quickest way to identify an orange-belted bumblebee is to observe the bright orange band across its abdomen.

    As the queen orange-belted bumblebee matures, it switches to laying unfertilized eggs, which develop into male drone bees. After completing their life cycle, orange-belted bumblebees fertilize their eggs, which develop into new queens.

    Despite the fact that the newly hatched queen orange-belted bumblebees still reside in the nest, they serve a different foraging purpose than the old queen and the worker bees.

    A new generation of orange-belted bumblebee queens spend the summer mating with drone bees that leave their pheromones in obvious places for the queens to detect. 

    When the queens follow the pheromones to the orange-belted bumblebee males, they mate by extending their stingers, which permits the male to insert sperm into the female’s body, which is stored during the winter months.

    In addition to accumulating body fat and collecting nectar, orange-belted bumblebee queens also make honey during the fall, which assists them in surviving the winter. In autumn, all of the other bees in the orange-belted bumblebee colony, including the workers, drones, and the old queen, die. The new queens then overwinter and emerge again in the spring, thus beginning a new cycle.

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