Bee of the Month: Buff-Tailed Bumblebee

Welcome back for another Bee of the Month blog! One of the most abundant species in various habitats across the United Kingdom is the Buff-tailed Bumblebee. These fascinating little creatures benefit our ecosystem, so let’s learn a little about them!

Buff-Tailed Bumblebee Basics

Buff-tailed Bumblebees, also known as “nectar robbers,” are a large species with dark yellow bands on the front of the thorax and middle of the abdomen; however, queens are the only ones with buff-colored tails and the largest in the colony, being between 20 and 22mm long. They’re called “nectar robbers” because if they come across a flower too deep for their tongue, they will bite a hole at the base and suck out the nectar.

Worker bees range from 11 to 17mm long, and males range from 14 to 16mm long. Workers and males have white tales, but males often have a thin but distinct yellow-buff band at the front of their tails. Worker bees and males look almost identical to the white-tailed bumblebee known in the United States. DNA testing is the only reliable way to identify them accurately!

Buff-tailed Bumblebees are most commonly found throughout Europe and generally occupy temperate regions. Because they can survive in various habitats, there are colonies in the Near East, the Mediterranean Islands, and Northern Africa. These fluffy creatures were introduced as greenhouse pollinators in countries where they are not native, so this bee is now considered an invasive species in many places, including Japan, Chile, Argentina, and Tasmania.

Colony Structure

Many social bee colonies have different social classes, which applies to buff-tailed bumblebees. The separated classes ensure a division of labor and efficient colony functioning. Queens become the primary female to reproduce, and her sole responsibility is to lay eggs after she founds a nest, which is typically underground.

Worker bees, an entirely female class, mainly forage for food, defend the colony, and tend to the growing larvae. Workers are typically sterile for most of the colony cycle and don’t raise their own young. Queens and workers develop from fertilized diploid (two contributing chromosomes), while the males, or drones, are born from unfertilized haploid (one contributing chromosome) eggs. Drones leave the colony shortly after adulthood to find a mate outside the nest. Mating is the male drone’s sole purpose within the colony.

Life Cycle

A solitary queen hatched from her abandoned colony initiates the colony cycle when she mates with a male and finds a nest. She will stay in this nest over winter and lay a small batch of diploid eggs in the spring. Once these eggs hatch, she tends the larvae until they pupate about two weeks later, and the first worker bees emerge. Workers forage for nectar and pollen for the colony and tend to later generations of larvae.

After the first part of the life cycle, the queen begins to lay haploid eggs that will develop into male drones. When the drones leave the nest, they don’t return, only foraging for themselves. They will seek out emerging queens and mate with them to create new colonies.

The colony continues until Autumn in temperate regions, and the workers begin to lay unfertilized eggs that will mature and become males. At this point, aggression among worker bees and between workers and the queen begins. This conflict eventually forces the queen from the colony, and the remaining workers become queen-less. A “false queen” might take control for a short period until queens emerge, help workers raise another brood of queens, then leave to mate and build a new colony. They will find a new site and dig a “hibernaculum,” where they will hibernate until spring, and the cycle starts again.

Foraging Behavior

Buff-tailed bumblebees forage on a large variety of flower species. Their highest foraging activity occurs in the morning, with their peak time around 7-8 AM, as they prefer cooler temperatures, typically around 77 degrees Fahrenheit.

Buff-tailed bumblebees exhibit alloethism, where different-sized bees perform different tasks, commonly seen in foraging behaviors. Larger bees usually forage outside the nest and return with more significant amounts of nectar and pollen. Successful bees returning from foraging will run around frantically without a measurable pattern. The theory is that running around spreads a pheromone that encourages other bees to go out and forage by indicating the location and scent of nearby food.

Buff-tailed bumblebees have a fantastic homing ability. If displaced from their nest, they can find their home again from up to six miles away! However, the return may take days, and these buff little bees are believed to use familiar foliage and natural landmarks to find their nest.

Live Bee Removal in Las Vegas

While our experts at Bee Master of Las Vegas can’t help out our European counterparts with bee removal, we can help our local Las Vegans with bee or wasp infestations! We practice safe bee removal, ensuring the colony thrives somewhere other than your home. Get a free quote today!

Request a Free Quote

Please complete the form below and a bee and wasp removal expert will contact you.