With the weather starting to warm up, you may soon be seeing the emergence of bumble bees. Easily recognizable by their fuzzy bodies and buzzing sound, bumble bees play a critical role in pollination and the diversity of ecosystems.
Bumble bees have a fascinating life cycle, with their colonies only lasting one year. The life span of bumble bees vary based on environmental conditions and the bee’s role in the colony. So, how long do bumble bees live?
The Life Cycle of Bumble Bees
The bumble bee colony begins in the spring, with the emergence of a new queen. This queen has mated and hibernated alone through the cold winter months.
Once the queen bumble bee emerges, she will hunt for a suitable nesting site. Underground cavities and abandoned bird and rodent nests work well, but some will nest in thick grass, vegetation, and compost piles.
Nesting and Egg Laying
Once a suitable nesting spot has been chosen, the queen bumble bee will begin laying eggs. The first eggs to hatch are female worker bees. Once the worker bees mature, they are responsible for most of the hive responsibilities, such as foraging for nectar and pollen, and caring for the brood.
Male and Queen Production
Toward the end of the bumble bee colony’s life cycle, the queen will produce male bumble bees and new queens. This is an important task that ensures the survival of the species. The male’s job is to leave the nest to find queens from other colonies to mate with, while the new queens prepare for hibernation.
The End of the Colony
Once autumn arrives, the bumble bee colony is near collapse. Most of the bees have died off and only the mated queens are left. The queens will leave the nest to find a safe overwintering site. This is where the queen will hibernate until spring.
The queens will hibernate all throughout winter, staying in a dormant state. In the spring, they will emerge, ready to start a new colony. And thus, the cycle will begin again.
How Long do Bumble Bees Live?
While a bumble bee colony will last for about a year, most bumble bees do not live quite as long. Generally, worker bumble bees will live for about 4 weeks on average. Male bumble bees, or drones, will live from a few weeks to 2 months. Once a drone has mated, he dies.
Queens, on the other hand, live longer. She will live for several months, and as long as 1 year. Queens live longer because of their ability to hibernate during the winter and create new colonies in the spring.
There are many natural causes of bumble bee mortality that would not allow them to live out their natural life cycle. A sudden spell of cold weather and flooding can cause bumble bee deaths.
Predators, such as birds, have been known to attack bumble bees. And lastly, parasites and viruses can weaken and kill bumble bees.
Bumble bee colonies have a seasonal life cycle. It begins in the spring when a single female emerges from hibernation and starts a nest. As winter approaches, only the new mated queens will survive, to create another colony the following spring.
Worker and drone bumble bees usually live about 1 month. Queen bumble bees can live for several months, and as long as 1 year due to their ability to overwinter. The specific duration of a bumble bee’s life can vary based on environmental factors.