How are bumblebees preparing for the cold weather?

As fall approaches temperatures begin to drop significantly at night, and the daytime highs become lower. Plants begin to go dormant, producing less and less flowers in the landscape. The buzz of bees also becomes quiet as we enter the winter months. Where are they going, and do they all do the same thing for the winter? Different species of bees do different things throughout the seasonal changes, and today I am going to talk about the bumblebees.

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IMG_1621Unlike honeybees, bumblebees do not overwinter.  Most of the colony dies off by fall, with exception to the new queens who have mated.  From spring to late summer, all of the foraging bumblebees consist of female worker bees.  Late in the summer most of the foraging bumblebees are new queens or males. 

In preparation for the fall, and passing the baton onto the next generation of queens, the existing bumblebee queen will begin laying eggs destined to become queens and males late in the summer.  Bumblebees, unlike solitary bees, mate in the late summer months.

Once the new queens and males emerge as adults, they seek mates, and once mated, a new queen will forage and build her fat stores until it is time to hibernate.  She will reside in her natal nest until temperatures drop.  When temperatures signal that winter is approaching, she finds a place to hibernate for the season. She will either dig a small cavern underground or seek shelter under a pile of leaves, and remain in hibernation until Spring, when she will awake and set up her own colony of worker bees.

The complexities of the life cycle of bees, and differences from one species to another  makes me appreciate their presence evermore! We may have the selfish and necessary motivation of food to convince us of a bee’s worth, but I think the more we understand these little creatures, the more reasons we’ll have to appreciate them and want them around simply for the sake of observation.

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