Tom Turpin
Professor of
Purdue University







The Humble Bumble Bee

The fall season brings increasing encounters of the buzzing kind --- the bumble bee.

Bumble bees and honey bees are the two social bees commonly found in the United States.  Bumble bees are more numerous during the fall, and unlike their cousins the honey bees, do not have permanent colonies.

Bumble bees colonies begin each spring when a fertilized queen emerges from her winter hibernation and seeks a suitable site to establish a cozy home.  She then lays a few eggs and nurtures her newly hatched offspring on nectar and pollen.

These first-born worker bumble bees are smaller than their later-season sisters and brothers.  The reason is the queen must do all the work and in addition nectar is not as plentiful early in the season.  Once the first few workers are reared, they take over the task of collecting food and caring for the young.  With all of this loving sibling attention, the youngsters are well-fed and grow larger than their old sisters.

Bumble bees play a vital role in the pollination of plants.  Red Clover is one agricultural crop that the bumble bees pollinate.  The bumble bee is the only insect that has a tongue long enough to reach the nectar in this flower.

Bumble bees are normally docile until injured or faced with the destruction of their home, whereupon they can become quite nasty little creatures.  In fact, unlike the honey be, the bumble bee can sting repeatedly.

Where brave men fear to tread, little boys have been known to go.  Armed with sticks and bravado, boys have provoked bumble bees to attack.  The battle then ends with the human combatants, amidst flailing arms cries of anguish, beat a hasty retreat to lick their wounds.  As it turns out, under such conditions the old bumble bee is not at all a “humble bee.”


Writer: Tom Turpin
Editor: Elaine Lambert