What is a bumblebee?
Bumblebees are large, hairy social insects with a lazy buzz and clumsy, bumbling flight. Many of them are black and yellow, and along
with ladybirds and butterflies are perhaps the only insects that almost everyone likes.
Queen and worker bumblebees can sting, and the photograph above right shows the extended sting of a Bombus lapidarius queen. You don't often see stings as bumblebees are reluctant to use them, and in all my years of working with them I have yet to be stung. For more on stings go to the sting page.
It is believed that the earliest fossilized bumblebee dates from the Oligocene, around 30 million years ago.
Bees and Einstein
It has been widely reported that Einstein said that without bees to pollinate our food crops humans would die off in just 4 years. Apparently Einstein never said this at all. It is just another urban myth. However if bees do die off it is fairly certain that life as we know it will cease with in a short time, and that there will be far fewer humans around, as there will be so much less for them to eat. So a world without bees will probably also be a world with far fewer humans.
For more on what we are doing to our world you can read my rant on global warming and pollution at the bottom of the Invertebrate page.
Where are bumblebees found?
found mainly in northern temperate regions, though there are a few native South
American species and New Zealand has some naturalised species that were
introduced around 100 years ago to pollinate red clover. They range much
further north than honey bees, and colonies can be found on Ellesmere Island in
northern Canada, only 880 km from the north pole!
With the recent
popularity of using bumblebees in glasshouse pollination they will probably be
found in most parts of the world before long (see below), especially Bombus
terrestris which seems to be the most popular species sold for this
Recently there have
been proposals to introduce bumblebees into Australia to pollinate crops in
glasshouses. Now, though I dearly love bumblebees, I do think that this might
not be a very good idea. No matter what security measures are taken, mated
queens WILL escape eventually and that will probably lead to their
establishment in the wild. And yet another non-native invasion of a country
that has suffered more than most from such things. This invasion may or may not
be benign, but isn't it better to err on the side of caution?
Apparently there are already colonies of Bombus terrestris on Tasmania, so I suppose it is now only a matter of time before they reach the mainland.