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Bumble Bees

Bumble Bee or Carpenter Bee    Beneficial Bees    Pest  Bumble Bees     
General Bumble Bee Information  

Control of Pest Bumble Bees

Bumble Bee or Carpenter Bee?Bumble Bee Carpenter Bee Picture

When encountering black, almost round bees buzzing around their home most people do not know the difference between the bumble bee and carpenter bee.  There are two basic things to note that should quickly let you know which bee you are seeing: location and activity of bee and certain physical characteristics of the bee.
Carpenter bees are most often noticed while they are building and tending to their nests which are simple, round openings in wood structures.  If you see a bee that is boring out a perfectly round hole in wood, it is a carpenter bee.  For more information about carpenter bees (biology, habits, how to control) go to the Carpenter Bee web page.
Bumble bees have a fuzzy abdomen and the Carpenter Bee has a shiny abdomen.

General Bumble Bee Information

The "Bumble Bee" is a big, hairy, black and yellow bee whose size can range from 3/4 inch to 1 1/2 inch.  This insect is often mistaken for a carpenter bee, which closely resembles the bumble bee in appearance.  Carpenter bees have a shiny and smooth abdomen as opposed to the fuzzy abdomen seen on a bumble bee.

There are over 200 types of Bumble bees in the world.  Fifty different types can be found in North America.  Each different species will have its own preference to types of nectar and prefers different flowers.
The bumble bee is an important, beneficial insect.  They pollinate plants and flowers as they forage for food.  To gardeners, it is a welcome sight to see these large, flying insects carrying large loads of pollen, flying into and around their flower beds and gardens.  While busy searching for food (and at the same time, pollinating plants) bumble bees are rarely a problem when in close proximity to humans.  They will actually (in most cases) go out of their way to avoid human contact.  Bumble bees will, however, defend themselves if they sense that they are cornered and cannot escape.  Most of the time they will fly away from danger but will sting if they are under duress. 

Bumble bees have very few predators in nature.  Skunks are their largest and most destructive predator.  Skunks are omnivores that will eat insects, rodents, reptiles, small mammals, worms, eggs, fish, fruit, and plants.  When they locate a bumble bee nest, skunks help themselves to bee larvae and adult insects.  They ignore the pain of bee stings to get to their preferred foods.

The queen bumble bee comes out of hibernation every spring to find a new spot to build her nest and start a new colony.  This queen bee was fertilized the previous season and has managed to live through the winter months.
The same nesting spot (from previous seasons) are rarely used.  A suitable place for nesting is usually on the ground, beneath a flat object.  An old mouse hole or similar hole in the ground is preferred if it is underneath an old tarp, flat stone or man made objects such as a deck.  The hole chosen by the queen bee is first padded by pieces of vegetation such as dry grass or moss.

It is in this padded underground hole that the fertilized queen bumble bee lays her eggs and begins collecting nectar for her soon to hatch grubs.  On the grubs emerge from their eggs, the queen bumble bee spins a protective silk cocoon for each grub.  It is from this first batch of larvae that 5 to 20 daughters emerge.  These daughters of the queen bumble bee are workers who begin immediately start working on building the colony.  The queen bee will continue to lay eggs for the remainder of the summer season.  The workers work tirelessly to build the colony, collect nectar for the young and also to provide protection for the colony.  The first batch (or hatching) of bumble bee workers are smaller than their sisters who will emerge later on when the colony grows larger and healthier.  The queen bee uses her energy to begin the nest and this energy (as well as time) is spread thin as she is the sole worker for the new colony.  As the colony grows, the eggs and larvae are given more attention and food simply because there are many workers that share the work load.  It is at this point in time that larger bumble bees are seen.

Bumble bees are often first noticed (in the area of the nest) when this activity of guarding the nest and pollen collecting begins.  The worker bees are focused only on their job and will not go out of their way to sting people.  It is only if people get too close to their nest or threaten them when bumble bees will sting.  Bumble bees do not die after stinging, as do some other stinging insects.

Towards late summer, the queen will start to produce drones and young queens.  The young queens are fertilized by the drones, then fly off to hibernate.  Hibernation usually takes place in dry protected areas such as loose bark.  The colony's remaining drones and workers stay in the colony and die during the winter season.  The young queens start new colonies in the spring of the year.  As mentioned above, bumble bees do not use the same nest though they may nest in an area close by to the original bee nest.

Bumble Bee Control

Pest Bumble Bees     Non-Chemical Prevention    Bee Control 

Bumble bees are very important, beneficial insects that pollinate plants and flowers.  Their activity in your gardens are desirable but allowing them to nest in areas where children and pets frequent or where you garden is not desirable.
When adults, children or pets frequent an area where bumble bees have made their nests, the beneficial bumble bee can become a pest.  A disturbed nest is an unhappy and angry nest!  Although skunks will tolerate a bee's sting (or multiple stings) while collecting food, other animals cannot tolerate the sting.  Dogs are often on the receiving end of angry bees.  
[A dog's curiosity can get it into trouble with stinging insects.  While investigating the activity of a nest, dogs usually get stung on their face and (most of the time) their snout and nose are easy targets for the bees.  When the dog investigates the sounds and activities of a bumble bee nest they are usually attacked on facial areas, resulting in painful stings accompanied by large swelling at the site of the sting.  The size of the swelling can be alarming, simply because there is very little muscle or fat on most dogs' face and muzzle area.]
To prevent bees from becoming a stinging pest, take action to remove possible nesting sites that would put a new colony in close proximity with children and adults that frequent certain parts of the property.
There are ways to avoid a bumble bee problem:

  • Clean up yard of unwanted mulch or other such organic debris.
  • When working in flower beds, gardens, etc. or when cleaning up other such areas around the home, be cautious when dealing with any flat board, stone, bricks, etc. as these are the most likely sites for a nest.
  • Remove flat items that could provide a nesting site for bees: boards, plywood, other loose building materials, tarps or other junk.  (This will not only reduce the chances of bumble bees nesting too close to house, children or pets but will also make your garden look nicer.)
  • Flat rocks, stones or bricks should be removed unless they are part of a pathway or other decoration.  Examine the ground beneath stones or brick for possible mouse holes which need to be filled in.  Check these items to make sure that they are packed down to make good contact with the ground.
  • If you find a nest, it is best to leave it alone and let the drones and workers die off during the winter.  Use this option only when you are positive that children, pets or workers in the area are not at risk of being stung by the bees.
    Foraging bees are extremely beneficial and want nothing to do with people or pets; encounters with bees in and around their nest can be harmful to people and pets.

When people come into contact with an active nest there are only two alternatives:

  1. Leave the nest alone and let nature run her course.
  2. Eliminate bumble bees nest when its location is potentially harmful to people or pets.

As beneficial as bumble bees are, they are indeed a pest when the location of their nest causes stings to people.

Eliminate Bumble Bees Nest

When the location of a bumble bee nest dictates elimination for safety's sake, certain products, techniques and timing are essential.  Using the wrong pest control products or using any control products during the peak of bee activity are the major mistakes you want to avoid.  For instructions on how to get rid of bumble bees that have become a hazard, see Bumble Bee Control; .  The control article will give you choices of products for different locations of bumble bee nests.

Credits

Our thanks to Chrissy Powell Helmig for her hard work and research that went into this bumble bee information page.
Our appreciation to Kansas State University for Bumble Bee vs. Carpenter Bee Picture.  

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