Why are bumblebees fat and hairy?

To fly, they need an internal temperature of 30°C – being hairy helps to retain heat produced by the wing muscles. As the bees brush past flowers their hairs also pick up pollen, which they comb out and collect.


Do bumblebees live in colonies?

Yes, but there are just 50–400 workers per nest, compared with up to 50,000 for a honeybee hive, and most nests last only a few months in spring and summer.

Where do bumblebees nest?

It varies by species: some use old rodent burrows; others build bundles of dry grass in the bottom of grassy tussocks. The tree bumblebee (its bright white ‘tail’ is a giveaway) likes to use bird nestboxes.

Which species of bumblebee will I spot in early spring?

The big, bumbly queens of February to April now stay in their nests, so you’ll mostly see female workers with pollen on their hind legs.

But the early bumblebee has a short colony lifespan, so may already be producing males – look for small, fluffy, yellow bees with red tails, yellow moustaches and hairy legs.

How can I help bumblebees?

Plant flowers such as red clover, lavender, snapdragons, runner beans, salvia, borage, cosmos, lungwort and comfrey. And go on a monthly bumblebee ramble, sending records to the BeeWalk survey.

Can bumblebees play?

It sounds like the start of a joke – and if you think of a good punchline, do write in – but bumblebees will seemingly interact with objects around them just for the fun of it.

A group of 45 bumblebees were placed in a container where they could follow a clear path to a tasty sugar solution or take a detour via a space filled with small wooden balls. The bees chose to go out of their way for a game of ‘bumbleball’.

The insects in the study rolled the balls around the arena, ‘playing’ with the ‘toys’ over 900 times, sometimes for 30 seconds or more. One bumblebee appeared to enjoy the game so much he made 117 rolls across the experiment. And, just as in humans, the youngsters in the group were shown to be the most playful.

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There was no incentive for the bumblebees to go near the wooden balls, and yet the behaviour was repeated even after the bee’s initial curiosity was satisfied. This, scientists believe, suggests the bees found the game rewarding. Perhaps bumblebees experience warm, fuzzy feelings just like we do during play.

Q&A answered by Amy Arthur


Richard Comont works for Bumblebee Conservation Trust.