Saturday, August 13, 2011

Monster Bee - Bumble Bee Queen

Two years ago while wandering in the garden I heard what sounded like an abnormally low and loud buzzing from a flying insect. I then watched in disbelief as a bee about 4 cm long buzzed around the flowers! Having grown up in a rural setting on the Canadian prairies, I have seen most noteworthy common insects. Never in my life have I seen a bee larger than the typical +/- 2 cm long variety. This bee was at least twice as large! Since then I have not seen a bee like this. Until today.

I managed to get a few fuzzy photos of the creature. I'm guessing this much be either a relatively new species to the Canadian prairies, or a very rare one at least. The bee is on Delphinium flowers about 3 cm in width. I estimate the bee to be about 3.5 to 4 cm in length (depending if you include wingtips).

UPDATE: Thanks to a tip from the Home Bug Gardener, the bee in the photo looks likely to be a queen bumble-bee. I later discovered my next door neighbour has a bee nest under her back step, the possible bee colony location for this queen. The bees are frequent visitors in particular to our oregano plant, where I typically see at least 10 bees feeding at any given time. However, the queen is rarely seen, this is only the second time in the last two years I've seen her.

In other news, we have been enjoying garden produce all summer, especially lettuce, spinach, volunteer lamb's quarter and chervil salads (I also include radish leaves, though the rest of the family does not care for them due to the small fuzz on them). Most plants are recovering from the hail except maybe the potatoes.


Dave said...

Hi Middle Earth,

Actually yes - I've seen a bumble bee very similar to yours for the last couple of weeks. I think it is a queen of a late emerging species of Bombus. Most of our bumblebee species emerge from hibernation fairly early in the spring, but the queens of some species don't emerge until it has warmed up. This has been an unusually cool summer and I think the late emerging species may be getting a very late start.

BugGuide has a picture of a Bombus nevadensis taken in Edmonton on 27 June 2008 (a more typical summer):

Bombus auricomus is also a late emerger and looks very similar.

The queen bumblebees have to do all of the foraging until they have raised a crop of workers and this year it looks like they are still foraging into August.



Middle Earth Garden said...

Thanks again Dave, it is always exciting to learn something new about the fascinating bug world.

Could the queen perhaps be foraging to gather calories in preparation for winter hibernation?

My next-door neighbour saw a/the queen again yesterday evening on her delphiniums. The queen must prefer them. We also see a large number of smaller worker bumble bees on our oregano all through the summer, they must really like that flower.

My neighbour has noticed the worker bumblebees regularly flying in and out from under her back step, so they must have a nest under there. My neighbour has a lot of flowers, so between her yard and some of ours, we must be supporting this colony. I wonder how many flowers total they need to support the colony? (I've read they typically have 30 to 50 bees in a colony, also that they are territorial).

HomeBugGardener said...

Yes, I suppose it is possible for the giant bumblebee in your yard to have been a newly emerged queen stocking up for winter. I can't see any pollen on the hind legs in your photos.

However, I saw pollen in the pollen baskets on the hind legs of the one in my yard - so she was foraging for a developing brood.

Bumblebees need an astonishingly large number of flowers to support their colonies, but when scientists say 'flower' they are being very strict. What looks like one flower on a sunflower or a spike of anise hyssop is actually a large number of flowers.

Casa Mariposa said...

We have a lot of really big bumbles here in VA that look just like your bee. Maybe this one got sick of our politics and headed north. :o) But our biggest bumbles are all in DC... :o)

Plant Library said...

I just want to say that this bee is on Delphinium flowers about 3 cm in width and I am wonder to see this monster bee because that`s so large.

Garden seeds said...

Thanks for the post mate you have written it very well.