BUMBLEBEES VS. HONEYBEES: WHATS THE DIFFERENCE?

Through my work with ABC Bees (Apiaries & Bees for Communities) and our urban beekeeping projects, I receive calls throughout the summer about bee nests being overturned or found under peoples decks. These individuals are calling me afraid that they may have killed the bees by accident or worse, that the bees are going to aggressively attack. Each time I have responded to the call, I calmly engage and educate the caller like a 911 operator and 99% of the time find out that  it has been a Bumble bee nest overturned.

Many of these callers think that the hive dug up was a honey bee nest, and with the media coverage of Colony Collapse Disorder and the disappearing bee, they call me to seek advice on how to act.  So, here is some information to help you differentiate between pollinator groups and help you in considering your opportunities of action. Knowing more about bee behaviours will help you decide the best way to interact with them.

Bumble Bees

  •  Thick and furry body. Fat all around with yellow, orange, and or black colouring.
  •  Thick wings visible when landed.
  • Various sizes from 2-5cm.
  • Live in poorly drained soils. Small nests os 5-50 members.
  • Queens are the only bee to overwinter, they hibernate at the nesting site.
  • Bumblebees can sting multiple times, but only the females can sting.
  • Bumblebees do not produce a honey surplus like honeybees.
  • They are native to Canada, with over 25 species specializing on the Rocky Mountain Regions.
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Honey Bees

  • Small body, fuzzy torso, sleek abdomen, and thin wings.
  • 2.5cm in length
  • Colonies of 1000-25000.
  • Can sting only once, but the males cannot sting
  • Produce a honey comb and honey surplus
  • Large portion of the colony overwinters with the queen
  • Honey bees are not native to Canada, brought over by Europeans during settlement.

Being able to differentiate between the two is essential for understanding the behaviour each. Bumble bees are not aggressive and will only sting when the hive is threatened. Honey bees are calm and unaggressive, but the quantity of bees can make the homeowner anxious and usually irrational in actions, disturbing the bees and making them feel threatened.

The removal of a honey bee hive can be challenging and may take a professional, call your local Beekeepers Association, while bumble bee nests should be left undisturbed until the winter months because they too are in danger! Go to http://www.thepollinatorfoundation.org or http://www.xerces.org to learn more about the endangered bumble bees.

Sharing your yard with any kind of pollinator is an excellent sign of your community health and prosperity. Be sure to respect the bees, and not to fear them. They are not after your meals, they are eaters of pollen and nectar and will leave you alone if you leave them be.

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