A Staff Report from the Straight Dope Science Advisory Board

Honeybees have hives, wasps and hornets have nests--what do bumblebees have?

August 11, 2000

Dear Straight Dope:

We have all seen honeybee hives and wasp or hornets nests. But where do bumblebees live? Do they live on their own or with other bumblebees? How long do they live for?

Bumblebees live in colonies, with a queen, in small cavities--sometimes underground, but sometimes in small nooks and crannies at or near ground level, never more than a foot or two above ground. They make small, simple wax pots in which they store pollen, honey, and larvae, but they don't make combs. Their life cycle is the same as yellowjackets, paper wasps, and such--in the winter, queens hibernate, and come out in the spring to start new nests. Over the course of the summer, the colony grows (in most U.S. bumblebees, maximum colony size is less than 100 workers), and in the fall they produce new queens and males that mate with them. The males and workers die, and the queens hibernate.

So, the queens live a year or so, but males and workers live only a few weeks, at most. And you think your life is a drag.

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