What Is a Queen Bumblebee? 

Buff-tailed bumblebee queen resting in nature in a nature reserve in Lancashire UK

Queen bumblebees are the bees that produce all the offspring for their colony. As opposed to worker bees, which are infertile and incapable of producing bee eggs, the queen bumblebee is a fertile, female bee. [1]

Queen bumblebees are larger than other bees and usually remain in the hive, whereas worker bees roam the surrounding areas looking for pollen and nectar. [2] A queen bumblebee is not usually seen outside the hive, especially in the later summer and fall. 

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    How Does a Bumblebee Become a Queen?

    The eggs that will be raised as new queen bumblebees are fed a different diet than worker bee larvae, which causes them to grow larger and stronger than worker bee larvae.

    Queen bumblebee larvae are fed “royal jelly,” a special secretion produced by worker bees that is rich in proteins, sugars, and other nutrients.

    It is important to note that while all fertilized eggs of bumblebees will develop into adult females, only those that are fed in this specific manner will develop into queens.

    During the early stages of the egg-laying season, all the eggs a queen bumblebee lays become worker bees because they are fertilized. The queen releases a pheromone that instructs all the bees to raise the newly laid eggs as worker bees rather than queen bees.

    Later in the season, the queen bee begins to lay unfertilized eggs that will develop into male drones, at which point the pheromone that instructs worker bees to raise the new female eggs is turned off. In the following stages, all fertilized eggs laid by the queen bee will be raised as new queen bees.

    What Are the Main Tasks of a Queen Bumblebee?

    A queen bumblebee is primarily responsible for producing offspring for its colony. It is the queen bumblebee that lays eggs that develop into adult bees. 

    In the early part of the colony season, the queen collects food to feed the eggs it lays. These eggs will grow into worker bees. 

    In the later part of the season, the queen bumblebee retires to its nest and does not venture out into the world, rather it lays eggs to ensure the success of the colony. 

    How to Identify a Queen Bumblebee

    A queen bumblebee is relatively easy to identify because it is much larger than other bumblebees. The large number of species of bumblebees makes it difficult to describe the queens of these bees in general. 

    You will find, however, that most bumblebee queens are much larger than worker bees or drone bees. Bumblebee queens have hair all over their bodies and are usually found nesting rather than foraging for food on flowers. It is uncommon for humans to see queen bumblebees. 

    Additionally, they possess two large black compound eyes on the sides of their faces, as well as three ocelli in the middle of their foreheads that assist them in navigating the world. It is common for most species of bumblebees to have queens with orange, red, or yellow markings on their thoraxes and abdomens. 

    Lifecycle of a Queen Bumblebee

    Queen bumblebees first hatch from eggs laid within their hives, typically at the end of the summer. During this stage of the life cycle, the queen bumblebee of the previous season is still producing male drone bees. 

    The male drone bees mate with the new bumblebee queen, providing it with sperm which it stores until the queen is ready to produce fertilized eggs. 

    As a result of mating, the queen bumblebee hibernates during the winter. As soon as the queen bumblebee locates a place where humans and animals will not disturb it, it digs a hole into some dry dirt in order to create a cavity in which to hibernate.

    The queens of bumblebees undergo this process when the temperatures decrease in the fall, as they are unable to survive exceptionally low temperatures without hibernating. 

    The metabolism of queen bumblebees slows down during hibernation so that they do not need to consume food during this time. Typically, they hibernate from October through April because this is the coldest time of the year. 

    Queen bumblebee mating
    Did you know that unlike female honeybees the bumblebee can sting multiple times?

    A queen bumblebee emerges from its hole once April arrives, as temperatures rise and its metabolism speeds up. 

    When the queen bumblebee emerges from hibernation, it needs to eat immediately. This means that if it emerges too early in the spring, it will die. However, if flowers are already in bloom when the queen bumblebee emerges, it will feed on them and flourish. 

    After emerging from hibernation and feeding, the queen bumblebee searches for a nesting site. There are many possible places where it can nest, including leftover holes from rodents, like rats or chipmunks, birdhouses, trees, or pipes.

    During the construction of its nest, it creates cells in which it stores food for itself and its young. Upon filling some of the cells with food, the queen bumblebee creates new cells and lays eggs within them. 

    Bumblebee queens typically place their food cells and brood cells close together in order to eat while laying their eggs. There are approximately five to sixteen eggs laid in each cell, which are then covered with more material. 

    When the queen bumblebee’s eggs hatch, they stop leaving their nest and stay inside. All foraging activities are performed by the worker bees, while the queen bee does nothing more than lay eggs, both fertilized eggs for creating worker bees and unfertilized eggs for creating drone bees. 

    In most cases, the old queen bumblebee dies before winter arrives, leaving the new queens alone to hibernate over the winter and continue the cycle. 

    The Lifespan of a Queen Bumblebee

    A queen bumblebee typically lives for twelve months from the time that it hatches from a newly laid egg, to the time that it hibernates in the winter, to the time at which it lays new queen eggs. 

    Queen bumblebees live a much longer life than worker bees or drone bees, which live only during the summer and do not overwinter. Successful queen bees can live for a full year, and all queen bees will survive at least until the spring. 

    A queen bumblebee’s lifespan is largely determined by the amount of food it has access to upon emergence from hibernation. As long as it has ample food available to it, it will survive the early spring and feed on nectar from flowers while building its hive. 

    However, if the queen emerges too soon from hibernation and flowers have not yet bloomed, the bee may die for lack of food. 

    What Happens When a Bumblebee Queen Dies?

    Typically, bumblebee queens do not die until they have produced new queens to replace them. When a bumblebee queen dies before laying its eggs, a bumblebee colony cannot reproduce. A bumblebee queen is the only bumblebee that produces new bees. 

    In the event of a queen bumblebee dying due to parasites or viruses during the egg-laying season, no more eggs will be laid until a new queen is introduced into the hive. 

    The only option for beekeepers who keep bumblebees is to feed already laid eggs a special diet that will make them develop into bumblebee queens. 

    A queen bumblebee collecting nectar and pollen from a purple crocus flower
    There are several species of bumblebees that are in trouble. Currently, five bumblebee species are listed as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List. [3]

    Queen bumblebees must find drones to reproduce. Similarly, if there are no drone bees, the colony will slowly die off. If there are drone bees, however, the drones mate with the new queens, resulting in a larger number of fertilized eggs being laid.

    When multiple queen bees are produced, they usually fight each other over who will become the sole queen, killing each other to establish dominance. 

    What Do Queen Bumblebees Eat?

    The queen bumblebee mainly eats nectar and pollen, especially in the early stages of breeding. A queen bumblebee requires nectar, which is rich in sugar, and pollen, which is rich in protein, in order to gain the energy needed to fly and the protein required to activate its ovaries.

    Queen bumblebees convert nectar and pollen into a rudimentary honey using their saliva, which is stored in waxy cells. In addition to feeding this mixture to their larvae, queen bumblebees eat it themselves if necessary. 

    After producing enough workers, queen bumblebees remain in the hive and allow the worker bees to bring them food, thus their name queen bumblebee. In general, all of their worker bees serve and cater to them. 

    Do Queen Bumblebees Pollinate?

    In spite of the fact that queen bumblebees are capable of pollinating due to their long hairs, they are not as important for pollination as worker bees because there are fewer queen bumblebees than worker bees. 

    Moreover, queen bumblebees only leave their nests in the spring, and stay in them once the worker bees are born, so they are not important pollinators later in the year. 

    In spite of that, queen bumblebees do produce all of the worker bees within a colony, which makes them indirectly responsible for all of the pollination that occurs thanks to bumblebees. 

    Do Queen Bumblebees Make Honey?

    It is important to note that all bumblebees, including the queen bumblebee, produce at least a rudimentary form of honey, but worker bees are primarily responsible for honey production in a hive.

    Bumblebee honey is more a mixture of pollen, nectar, and saliva than fully cured and aged honey produced by honeybees. 

    The production of honey by bumblebees is relatively small compared to that of honey bees, and they are not typically farmed for their honey.

    In contrast to honey bees, which produce enough honey to feed their entire colony through the winter, bumblebees produce only enough honey to feed their young as they grow. As a result, bumblebees are not of great use to humans who wish to harvest honey from them. 

    Do Queen Bumblebees Sting?

    Queen bumblebees, like all female bees, sting. Queen bumblebees are generally not aggressive, so it is unlikely that one will sting you. 

    Moreover, because queen bumblebees spend most of their time within the hive laying eggs and caring for young bees, they are less likely to sting humans than worker bees. 

    You can avoid being stung by a queen bumblebee by staying away from them and allowing them to conduct their foraging and mating activities. 

    Even though encountering a large bee, such as a queen bumblebee, may cause some people to be scared, bumblebees are usually not aggressive and do not harm humans unless threatened. 

    Queen Bumblebee vs. Queen Honey Bee

    Queen Bumblebee Queen Honey Bee
    Appearance Round body, fuzzy all over, yellow markings on abdomen and thorax, small wings, large pollen baskets. Not as hair or round as a bumblebee, longer and more brown with dark markings on the abdomen, small wings, shiny hairless back.
    Geography Generally found in the Northeastern United States, and not in many other parts of the world. Found in most parts of the world.
    Stinging Queen bumblebees can sting, but rarely come into contact with humans and therefore are not a huge threat to humans. Queen honey bees can sting, but rarely come into contact with humans and therefore are not a huge threat to humans.
    Honey Production Bumblebees do not exactly produce honey as honey bees do, but they do create a mixture of nectar, pollen, and saliva that is similar to honey bee honey and is used as a food source for the queen and the young bees and larvae. Honey bees produce large quantities of honey that feed the bees over the winter, allowing them to survive cold temperatures and seasons when flowers are not available for harvesting.
    Reproduction The queen bumblebee is responsible for all of the eggs produced in a bumblebee colony, and she is fertilized by male drone bees as they are born. The queen honey bee is responsible for all of the eggs produced in a honey bee hive, and she is fertilized by male drone bees as they are born.
    Colony Size One queen, fifty to four hundred individual bees, more female worker bees than male drone bees. One queen, ten thousand to sixty thousand individual bees, more female worker bees than male drone bees.


    [1] Storymaps [2] Wikipedia [3] Treehugger 

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