Unlike other native bees, Bumblebees are social insects. They are known for their gentle nature and are very useful especially for pollination. Bumblebees are like butterflies and ladybugs, they are harmless. This makes people consider them favorites of the “bee” family. But how long do bumblebees live?
This question may have crossed your mind a couple of times. Maybe because you are considering training a colony of bumblebees or they are clustered around your backyard and you need to know how long they’ll be up there.
Bumblebees can live for a while depending on the individual bumblebee and the species. A queen bumblebee can live for 12 months while workers and males do not live for more than 2 months.
The life cycle of the bumblebee.
There are about 250 species of bumblebees. Some of which are Buff-tailed bumblebee, American bumblebee, cuckoo bumblebee, and common eastern bumblebee.
While some live in nests, others infest the nest of their fellow bumblebees, kill the queen, and use workers to take care of their eggs. Let’s know more about this in the lifecycle of bumblebees.
The lifecycle of bumblebees is quite interesting. First, they are known to live in nests. Every nest is made up of a bumblebee colony which consists of a queen, male and female (often referred to as workers) bumblebees.
Much like other insect colonies, the female workers take care of the nest and needs of the queen who in turn lays eggs to continue the lifespan of the colony. Bumblebees in a colony are often between 50 and 500.
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Life cycle and Lifespan of bumblebees in a colony
1. Queen bumblebee.
The lifecycle of a bumblebee begins in spring. By this time, a fertilized bumblebee queen who survived the winter awakens with the rising temperature to make an underground nest where she raises worker bees.
Before spring, the queen bumblebee who has been hibernating survives on the reserve stored in her body as fat. When she awakens in spring, she first feeds on flower nectar and pollen. She then lays eggs.
By the summer, these eggs have developed into female bumblebees also known as workers. By late summer, she produces more offspring. This time, both male and female bumblebees. These bumblebees will then mate to continue the lifecycle of the colony.
These female bumblebees are known as the young queens. You should know that an old queen may not survive the next winter. In essence, a queen bumblebee will live for as long as 12 months.
2. Female (worker) bumblebees
These are the first set of hatched eggs. Then undergo several instar stages, after hatching into a larva. They then develop to the pupa stage. When they develop into bumblebees, they in turn forage for food from the nectar of flowers and pollen.
Some workers stay in the nest taking care of the queen and handling other nesting businesses like brooding of eggs. The female bumblebees go out to forage, bring food for the queen and other workers. By this time, the queen prepares for another round of laying eggs.
By late summer, she produces offspring to continue their colony. When these eggs are hatched, they produce both male and female bumblebees. The female bumblebees are young queens. They grow and begin storing energy as fat reserves to help them survive through the winter.
Worker bumblebees live shorter lives. They hardly ever survive the winter since they are unable to store energy in their bodies. Female workers do not live for more than 2 months. Their lifespan is between two and six weeks after birth.
3. Male or drone bumblebees
Unlike female bumblebees, male bumblebees are only produced for mating. After they develop fully, they go in search of food and also compete to mate with the young bumblebee queens. The mating process is such that they have to compete to be picked. Sadly not all males mate with females before their death.
Like the worker bumblebees, male bumblebees have short lifespans. They usually do not survive the winter and live for about a month which is on average, 28days before they die.
Species of Bumblebees and how long they live.
- Buff-tailed bumblebee
This species, also known as the Large Earth bumblebee is quite popular around Europe but can be found in other countries since it is commonly used for greenhouse pollination. They are often referred to as “true” bumblebees.
Usually, a queen buff-tailed bumblebee is monandrous. She mates with only one male in her lifetime. Like many bumblebee species, the buff-tailed bumblebee queen likes for about 12 months while workers and males like for about a month.
The buff-tailed bumblebee is oval-shaped, heavily covered in hair, and possesses a dirty yellow band across its abdomen and behind its head.
- American bumblebee
American Bumblebee is found in Eastern Canada, in open farmlands and fields. Just like other bumblebee species, their life cycle and reproduction styles are similar. The American bumblebee lays eggs which take about 4- 5 weeks to develop into adulthood.
For these species, the fertilized eggs laid by the queen become a worker bumblebee or a queen while unfertilized eggs hatch into male bumblebees. While workers die during winter, young American bumblebee queens survive the winter by hibernating.
Sometimes, old queens can be killed by worker bumblebees. The American bumblebee queen lives for about a year while males and female workers of the same colony live shorter lives.
- Cuckoo bumblebee.
This species is a little different from others. The cuckoo bumblebee is a predator species. They infiltrate their host colony, subdue the queen and enslave her workers. They lay eggs in this colony and the workers in turn forage for nectar and pollen for them.
Since they have lost their ability to rear their brood and collect pollen, they rely on workers from the host colony. A cuckoo bumblebee queen can live for 12 months depending on her ability to infiltrate a colony.
When the eggs of this species are developed, both males and females leave the colony to mate before winter. Cuckoo bumblebees are dark-winged and have a very yellow appearance. The queen cuckoo bumblebee, unlike other species, does not lay worker bumblebees.
This makes her rely on workers from other colonies. She is only able to reproduce females (young queens) and males to continue their lifecycle. What’s more, the queen does not emerge from hibernation until late spring.
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How long do bumblebees live in captivity?
You may be wondering how long your bumblebees will live. First off, bumblebees are not so hard to rear in captivity when you provide the necessary proteins for their growth. Since they feed on the nectar of flowers, you should make sure they are provided for them.
If you have more than one queen bumblebee in a jar, they will both produce. However, you should let them out in your garden to enable them to forage for pollen and nectar for their brood.
They may not do so well in captivity. But the queen due to her hibernating nature can live for a long time. Say about 12 months if properly fed. If a bumblebee is in captivity without food, the bee may not last for more than a few hours.
How long can bumblebees live alone?
A queen bumblebee can live alone till spring. Usually, when young queens are developed, they go out to mate and then find nesting places, to wait out the winter season. Since a queen bumblebee hibernates, she survives the winter while others from her colony die.
A queen bumblebee can live throughout the winter season alone which is about 3 months. After this, she comes out in spring and sets up her own nest to continue the life cycle of their species.
How long can bumblebees live without food?
Bumblebees depend on the nectar of flowers to survive. So if they are without food, they may not survive for more than a few hours. However, a queen bumblebee can hibernate and sustain herself throughout winter with the reserve energy stored in her body. Depending on the species, a bumblebee can survive a few months without food.
Bumblebees are scarcely harmful insects. In fact, these social creatures would not cause you problems. They are on the contrary great pollinators for your environment and will help keep the plants and trees in your garden fruitful. They will not sting except when provoked.
If you notice an infestation around your home and you’re wondering how to get them, you can simply wait them out. A bumblebee colony takes a few months before they die, leaving the queen who goes off to find shelter during winter.
You can also get rid of their nests after the colony dies, so there is no recurring infestation.