Household Pests: Bumblebees

Medically Reviewed by Jabeen Begum, MD on January 16, 2023
4 min read

Bees are buzzing all around us. In fact, there are more than 20,000 types of bees worldwide, with 4,000 of them native to America. You may see them in public settings, like during picnics in pastures, when you take your kids to the park, and during outings to hike along trails. 

Many people fear bees, and with good reason. Bees have stingers, and if you get too close to them, they may sting you. Bee stings can be quite painful, too, and sometimes the stingers get left behind, and you have to remove them. Even worse, about 2 million people in the United States are allergic to bee stings.

Although many people consider bees to be pests, we often fail to understand the importance of bees to the environment. One type of bee, the bumblebee, is extremely vital to plants, agriculture, and our environment as a whole. Bumblebees aren’t only good at pollinating flowers — they also work to pollinate crops and help them thrive.

Bumblebees are a type of flying insect in the bee family. The bee family, Apoidea, includes many species, and within it, there are many different species of bumblebees. Forty-nine of these species are known to inhabit the United States. If you notice them flying, you’ll notice they fly clumsily. Unlike the strong buzzes of other bees, bumblebees emit a lazy buzz.

Bumblebees are commonly found in northern temperate areas, such as throughout the United States and Canada. However, some bumblebee species are native to other regions, like South America and New Zealand.

Bumblebees are social creatures that prefer to live in colonies rather than keep to themselves. They craft hives that provide them shelter from weather conditions and predators, allowing them a place to raise their offspring. Their hives are usually built in underground shelters. Their colonies can reach anywhere from 50 to 500 bees.

Bumblebee colonies usually have a matured queen bee and several worker bees. During the colder months, the queens hibernate and the worker bees die. Once spring arrives, the queens emerge and begin laying eggs to begin new colonies. 

Bumblebees can beat their wings more than 130 times per second. This allows them to extract pollen from flowers in a process known as buzz pollination. 

Unfortunately, many bumblebee species are declining and at risk of becoming endangered. Threats to bumblebee populations include habitat loss, diseases, climate change, pesticides, and competition from honeybees. Several species, such as the western bumblebee, the yellow-banded bumblebee, and Franklin’s bumblebee have seemingly vanished from their ranges and have made the endangered species list. 

What do bumblebees look like? Bumblebees are usually black and yellow and have large, furry bodies. Sometimes they have reddish hues on their bodies. Like most insects, a bumblebee’s body comprises three main areas: 

  • The abdomen contains the digestive and reproductive tracts and the stinger.
  • The head is home to the antennae, mouthparts, and eyes.
  • The thorax holds the wings, wing muscles, and legs.

Bumblebees come in various sizes and color patterns, though their bodies are typically stout. Because they come in so many variations, identifying bumblebees can be difficult.

What do bumblebees eat? Bumblebees mainly eat pollen and nectar found in various flowers. These flowers provide bumblebees with all the necessary nutrients to keep them healthy and thriving. Flowers also give bumblebees access to protein and carbohydrates, which contribute to their growth and energy.

What do bumblebees do? Bumblebees are responsible for keeping flowers and plants alive. Bumblebees help gather and spread pollen and nectar among agriculture, allowing more flowers to grow.

In general, bumblebees are not dangerous creatures. But if you’re wondering, “do bumblebees sting?,” the answer is that some bumblebees can sting. Females are the ones that sting, whereas male bumblebees cannot.

Bumblebee stings can cause health issues for people who are allergic to bee stings. If you’ve been stung and are experiencing an allergic reaction, you should seek immediate medical attention.

Otherwise, bumblebees are relatively safe neighbors and always beneficial to the environment.

Because bumblebees are a vital part of our ecosystem, it’s not recommended that you engage in preventative measures. Bumblebees are harmless insects and help conserve nature. However, if you want to prevent bumblebees from making a home on your property, avoid planting nectar- and pollen-producing flowers that draw bumblebees near.

How to get rid of bumblebees. Bumblebees sometimes build nests in inconvenient spots, although it’s rare. If you or someone you know walks past the nest, you can disturb the bees and may risk getting stung. So, it’s common for people to want to remove bumblebees from their property, or at least move them to another location. If you do find a nest, it’s best to avoid coming too close to it. Even breathing on the nest can disrupt the bees and make them defensive.

One method to safely remove bumblebees is to call a professional to do it for you. They'll have the knowledge, experience, and tools to relocate your bumblebee nest. Another method is to simply wait. Bumblebee nests generally last only a few months and then die off. Queens leave their old nests behind and look elsewhere to build new ones.

As bumblebees are faced with endangerment, it’s important to try and help them as best you can, especially because they're a vital source of pollination for flowers and crops. If you want to help protect bumblebees, you can give them access to nectar- and pollen-producing flowers. Both adult bees and larvae will feast on these food sources.

You’ll need to decide which plants are best kept in your area, depending on where you live. Native plants are always best to keep on hand because the bees native to your area will favor them over non-native plants. Consider planting various kinds of plants that bloom in all three seasons so the bees will have access to food all year round.