Like bees, bumblebees belong to the Apidae family and collect nectar and pollen to feed themselves, but the two species have differences: bumblebees are larger than common bees, have the characteristic colouring of yellow and black bands, have a downy coat that gives them a soft appearance and, despite the presence of a stinger (the poison of which can cause reactions in allergic individuals), are sociable and not very aggressive.
The habitat of bumblebees includes temperate or warm areas, although there are some species that have adapted to tropical and arctic climates.
Bumblebees normally live together in small colonies located in the crevices of trees or in hollows in the ground; the nests are governed by a queen who is the only one able to survive the winter: with the arrival of mild weather the queen will build a small wax cell in which she will deposit a few eggs and feed them. The first eggs are destined to be sterile females who will collect pollen for the colony and help the queen in the construction of new cells, as happens with bees.
Then, in mid-summer, females capable of breeding are born, which upon reaching adulthood will lay unfertilised eggs that give rise to males. The males will fertilise the new females born at the end of the summer, the future queens, who will spend the winter in a safe, temperate place to establish new colonies the following year.
The queen’s life span is one year (although some species are longer), at the end of the summer and her life, she loses the pheromone that gives her superiority, so the queen gives birth to individuals capable of reproduction that will create grapes fertilisable by the males thus forming new monarchs, while the old queen is eliminated by the workers.
The diet of bumblebees is based on the extraction and consumption of nectar and pollen taken from the flowers through the use of their tongues (and the storage of the substances in their crop). The bumblebees are able to collect large quantities of pollen: it is taken in the form of powder by adhering it to the fur of their legs while they feed, and is also placed inside lateral pockets on their legs. Once they arrive at the nest, the pollen and nectar collected are placed in cells where they are used for feeding or as a reserve.
Bumblebee honey is not consumed by humans, as it is not as dehydrated as bee honey and therefore has a very liquid appearance. The nectar is different, as it has been collected from the nests of bumblebees in Northern Europe since ancient times and consumed as a dessert.
In recent years the bumblebee population has been declining due to the high sensitivity of these insects to insecticides and pesticides. Nevertheless, there is good news: bumblebees are gaining more and more ground in agriculture as pollinators, making it possible to grow plants that are very difficult to pollinate, such as tomatoes.
Fun fact: the buzzing sound of the bumblebee is created by the vibration of the flight muscles which vibrate the entire abdomen of the insect and also serve to warm it up in cold weather.