Apidae – Bumblebees

The Apidae family is the largest bee family and includes a wide variety of native bees and the non-native honeybee.

Bumblebees

There are approximately 46 species of bumble bee in North America, all of which are native to the continent. More specifically, for those states that lie east of the 100th meridian, there are a total of 21 species.

Photo Credit: Wiki commons, Author: Bee-Butterflyworld

The common and easily recognized bumblebees are large and have hind legs that have smooth areas surrounded by stiff bristles.  They are mostly black and often are striped with white, yellow or orange.  All species, except for those in the subgenus Psithyrus, are eusocial, meaning they live in colonies comprised of several different “castes” with one queen and many worker bees.  However, bumblebee colonies are never as big as honeybee colonies. They are a ground nesting species who require larger cavities than solitary bees and will often utilize old mouse borrows.

For more information on the colony cycles of bumblebees click here
or here.

Photo Credit: Wiki commons, Author: Julie Anne Workman

Bumblebees rely entirely on flowering plants for food. Adults feed primarily on nectar but feed their larvae (developing bees) on pollen. This is why the relationship between pollinator and plant is mutually beneficial, the bee gets fuel and the flower gets a transport vector! Bumblebees and honey bees both have pollen baskets called corbicula. The shape of the corbicula allows them to pack pollen (mixed with some pollen and saliva) into a tight pellet.  Other bees have pollen baskets called scopae which are not as specialized.

Bumble bees are very important in crop pollination, in both greenhouses and open fields, as they are able to forage under wider weather conditions than honeybees. They are generalists and have been recorded visiting hundreds of native plant species. In this way, bumble bees are widely responsible for ecosystem biodiversity and supporting native conservation by providing pollination services.

bumble bees in your pollinator garden

A good sign for your pollinator garden is a large number of buzzing visitors! It may be difficult for pollinator gardeners to identify every single bee visitor down to the species level.  However, it may be possible to identify those few that are present in high numbers within Georgia gardens.

Species that you may find in your Atlanta pollinator garden: Bombus impatiens, Bombus bimaculatus, Bombus fraternus, Bombus pensylvanicus.

Hover your mouse over the bee images below to identify their species, and see photo credits

Species that may be present in the more northern parts of the state : Bombus perplexus, Bombus vagans, Bombus sandersoni, Bombus terricola, Bombus affinis, Bombus borealis, Bombus auricomus, Bombus citrinus, Bombus fernaldae, Bombus griseocollis.

Species that may be present in other parts of Georgia: Bombus griseocollis and Bombus variabilis.

More online resources for bumblebee self-identification can be found here and here.  Both of these sites also offer identification services. As an alternative to photograph identification at bumblebee.org, they have provided an illustrated identification key for all North American bumble bees.  You can find it here.