Did you know there are multiple species of the iconic bumblebee? During the growing season, each of us may encounter several species of these insects. The most common kinds are recognizable by their robust shape, hairy bodies, and black and yellow markings. A few have orange. More than 250 species of the bees have been identified, with 17 of them in Minnesota. They are large, three-fourths of an inch long or longer.
People are surprised that these giant insects can make progress through the air on such small wings. Antoine Magnan, a French zoologist, made some careful studies of bumblebee flight in 1934, and concluded that because of their size they should not be able to fly at all.
As social bees, bumblebee colonies contain three castes: queens, drones (males) and workers. The queen and drones can sting. Bumblebees are not normally aggressive but may sting in defense of their nest, or if harmed.
Unlike honeybees, a colony of bumblebees does not live through the winter. Only the young queens live, hibernating underground and emerging in spring to search for new nesting sites. Most nest in the ground, usually a burrow made by another animal. Bumblebees are probably the busiest of all bees. They collect both pollen and nectar at the same time and are, therefore, good pollinators.