The Bumble Bee: Fuzzy, Buzzy, and Fast

The fuzzy bumble bee may display a buzzy bumbling flight pattern, but this clever bee has superior pollination abilities that collect pollen twice as fast as a honey bee.

When pollinating, the heavy bumble bee clings to the bottom of the flower and vibrates its flight muscles, producing a “buzz” sound. The pollen falls out of the flower onto the bumble bee. This makes them awesome tomato and blueberry pollinators! Bumble bees can harvest pollen from flowers 400 times faster than honey bees can.

Fast but not furious, the bumble bee queen and workers have stingers, but seldom sting.

©CC Bumble Bee on Thistle Courtesy of Alex Pepperhill

©CC Bumble Bee on Thistle Courtesy of Alex Pepperhill

The bumble bee works… and works .. and works.

What makes the bumble bee so efficient? After scraping pollen off and mixing it with her spit, the female worker carries pollen on the underside of her fuzzy abdomen and on her rear legs. She also gathers nectar in these same trips. The bumble carries the pollen back to her hive for rearing new workers.

Like honey bees, the bumble is a social bee with one queen in a hive and workers that support her. Unlike honey bees, however, bumble bees do not have a permanent colony. In autumn, each bumble colony dies out and only the young, mated queens hibernate, each separately, elsewhere in their own new hole. There will be only 150-200 bees in a bumble bee hive in comparison to 20-35,000 bees in a honey bee hive.

The bumble bee is a productive pollinator for spring-through-fall gardens and flowers. As such, the bumble bee is a terrific pollinator of tomatoes and other summer vegetables. This bee also does well in some greenhouse arrangements.

©CC Bumble Bee Hummel Courtesy of Andreas

Pollen feeds the bumble … who feeds us.

Bumble bees are well known for their superior pollination ability with tomatoes. The bumble bees perform well in greenhouses, which has them used worldwide for commercial greenhouses. On the other hand, the tomato has little nectar, which must be supplied for the bees. A substitute nectar (Karo corn syrup/water) can be placed in the container for the bees’ nectar needs. This is used in a “tomato flower only” situation. Bees foraging outside a greenhouse are able to find nectar.

In short, bees won’t survive in your yard without flowering plants and trees. The bee’s food source is stored in the blossoms. They gather pollen for protein and other nutrients, and nectar for an energy source. Without this nutrition in your yard, the bees and their young will starve. Fortunately, bumble bees are generalists. They gather pollen/nectar from lots of blooming plants, from dandelions and blueberries to squash and lavender. Beware of hybrids and double blossoms as they have little to no pollen.

©CC Bumble Bee Courtesy of Marilyn Peddle

©CC Bumble Bee Courtesy of Marilyn Peddle

Bumble Bee Quick Facts

  • Social bees that live in small hives of under 200 bees.
  • Hives that are left alone are gentle. They will defend their hive when the hive is threatened.
  • Bees gathering pollen and nectar won’t sting unless life is threatened. They are a great garden companion.
  • Beekeeping not needed.
  • They vibrate flowers to release pollen (“buzz pollination”), which makes them especially effective at pollinating plants in the nightshade family such as: peppers, tomatoes and eggplant.
  • Active spring, summer, and fall.