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bumblebee nest

Bumblebees: Lifecycle, Nests, and What You Can do to Help

They’re hard to miss. Big, fuzzy balls rolling around in pollen or the low hum of their flight muscles as they meander through the yard in search of flowers. It’s summer and the bumblebees are back!

The Bumblebee Lifecycle

In the spring, bumblebee queens emerge from their hibernaculum, a cavity where they remain dormant over winter) and begin to search for a summer nesting site. Once the queen bumblebee finds a suitable nest, she will begin to store pollen and lay eggs. It takes roughly four weeks for the first bees to develop. After the worker bees have matured they will take over the job of foraging and caring for larvae. The queen bee will lay new queen bees and male bees after the worker population is established. The queens and males will leave the nest to mate when they are mature. The males soon die and the mated queens search for their own hibernaculum to wait out the winter.

illustratuib if bumblebees going through the bumblebee lifecycle
(Image: David Wysotski / Allure Illustration)

How can you help the bumblebees?

Sadly, bumblebee populations (and many other native bee species) are on the decline, struggling with pesticide use and habitat loss, and fragmentation. Thankfully, there are a few easy ways to help bumblebees thrive!

Avoid Pesticide Use – In your yard and in your food

  • Pesticides on plants and in pooling water can make bees sick. Instead, encourage the development of a healthy ecosystem that supports many insect and bird species that can help keep pests in check.
  • Avoid buying foods that have been grown with the use of pesticides. Widespread application of these chemicals in agricultural areas can affect countless bees.

Plant Pollinator-Friendly Flowers – In your yard, on your balcony at your school!

  • Bumblebees need plenty of pollen and nectar to create a strong healthy colony. Bumblebees are native to Canada and it fits that the best flowers are those native to your area.
  • The David Suzuki website has some great tips for creating a pollinator-friendly garden
  • We have put together a plant and pollen list for Alberta and BC.

Create or Preserve Bumblebee Nesting Sites

  • As a ground-nesting species, most bumblebees will look for an old rodent hole or woodpile to make a nest. In the city, bumblebees tend to be found in old bird nests, soffits, under decks, and near foundations. Having a bumblebee nest in your yard may be a little unnerving however, bumblebees are very docile, unlikely to sting and their nests are usually no bigger than your hand and containing 40-100 bees. They no not cause damage to your house and in the fall, when the nest dies you can close up the entrance to prevent it from being used next year.
  • If you’re lucky enough to have a nest in your yard, try to leave them for the season, as they, along with most other native bees, struggle with habitat loss. Should you find yourself in the position where you must move the nest, this website has some great advice: http://bumblebeeconservation.org/about-bees/faqs/moving-bumblebee-nests/

If you want to learn more about these loveable little guys and other pollinators, visit the Xerces site. This website has fantastic information on gardening for pollinators, habitat preservation and information on how to get involved with bumblebee tracking programs! The bees will thank you for it and so will your garden!