Bumble Bee

Family: Apidae

Due to their large size and dense hair covering their entire body, bumble bees can fly and pollinate in cooler temperatures and carry more pollen than other bees. They are also active the entire length of Wisconsin’s growing season, from April to October.

Bumble bees are social bees, living in underground colonies with anywhere from 50 to 500 individuals.

Description

  • Bumble bees are fully covered in dense hairs.
  • Each species has a different pattern of yellow and black hair (some species have an orange-brown patch).

If you would like to become an expert in identifying Wisconsin’s 20 bumble bee species, check out this online guide:

Bumble Bees of Wisconsin

Photo credit: Megan Lipke

Where they carry pollen

Bumble bees carry pollen in bright, tight yellow pollen sacs (corbiculae) stored on their hind legs. Not all foraging bumble bees will be gathering pollen, but they stand out when they do.

Bumble bee collecting pollen on a purple prairie clover flower.

Experts at buzz pollination

The charismatic buzzing sound you hear when bumble bees are on flowers gives this feature its name.  When on a flower, bumble bees have the capacity to vibrate (by shivering their flight muscles) at particular frequencies to help dislodge pollen from the anthers of flowers.  This behavior is essential for pollinating fruits like tomatoes, where the pollen is held tightly on the anthers.  Check out this great video from Smithsonian that highlights buzz-pollination.