Bumblebees vs. Honeybees: Whats the difference?

Through my work with A.B.C- Apiaries and Bees for Communities and our urban beekeeping projects, I receive calls throughout the summer about bee nests being overturned or found under peoples decks. These individuals are calling me afraid that they may have killed the bees by accident or worse, that the bees are going to aggressivly attack. Each time I have responded to the call, I calmy engage and educate the caller like a 911 operator and 99% of the time find out that  it has been a Bumblebee nest overturned. Many of these callers think that the hive dug up was a honeybee nest, and with the media coverage of CCD and the disappearing bee, they call me to seek advice on how to act.  So, here is some information to help you differentiate between pollinator groups and help you in considering your opportunities of action. Knowing more about bee behaviours will help you decide the best way to interact with them.

Bumblebees

  •  – Thick and furry body. Fat all around with yellow, orange, and or black colouring.
  • - Thick wings visible when landed.
  • - Various sizes from 2-5cm.
  • - Live in poorly drained soils. Small nests os 5-50 members.
  • -Queeens are the only bee to overwinter, they hibernate at the nesting site.
  • - Bumblebees can sting multiple times, but only the females can sting.
  • - Bumblebees do not produce a honey surplus like honeybees.
  • - They are native to Canada, with over 25 species specializing on the Rocky Mountain Regions.

Honeybees

  • -Small body, fuzzy torso, sleak abdomen, and thin wings.
  • - 2.5cm in length
  • - Colonies of 1000-25000.
  • - Can sting only once, but the males cannot sting
  • - Produce a honey comb and honey surplus
  • - Large portion of the colony overwinters with the queen
  • - Honeybees are not native to Canada, brought over by Europeans during settlement.

Being able to differnetiate between the two is essential for understanding the behaviour each. Bumblebees are not aggressive and will only sting when the hive is threatened. Honeybees are calm and unaggressive, but the quantity of bees can make the homeowner anxious and usually irrational in actions, disturbing the bees and making them feel threatened. The removal of a honeybee hive can be challenging and may take a professional, call your local Beekeepers Association, while bumblebee nests should be left undisturbed until the winter months because they too are in danger! Go to http://www.thepollinatorfoundation.org or http://www.xerces.org to learn more about the endangered bumblebees.

Sharing your yard with any kind of pollinator is an excellent sign of your community health and prosperity. Be sure to repsect the bees, and not to fear them. They are not after your meals, they are eaters of pollen and nectar and will leave you alone if you leave them be.

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  1. I just saved a “dead” bumblebee that was on my floor by offering it honey on a spoon. It’s little proboscis snaked out, started drinking, and I put a glass over it and the spoon till it finished and started buzzing around, then I released it outside. I only knew to do this because I just went on a honey bee tour last week!

    • The bees are lucky to hevae someone like you take a moment and care for the little bee, offer it a helping hand. Nature doesnt have to be red in tooth and claw, sometimes it just takes a little helping hand.

      • Keith
      • August 24th, 2013

      Well done and thank you.

    • Jackie
    • August 1st, 2012

    Wow–I did something similar recently: found a disoriented bumblebee that I think bounced off a car. Held it up on my finger to a blue harebell-type wildflower on a quiet street: its tongue came out aimed right at the flower’s centre, then it climbed into the flower and began to drink happily!

    • Cheryl Layton
    • September 1st, 2012

    Thank you so very much for this wonderful info. I am happy to do my small part to protect our bee population. These are bumblebees and we have decided to share our space with them.

    Thank you for a chance to educate myself on on of my little neighbors.

    • DeeDee
    • March 25th, 2013

    I was stung on the ass by a fierce flying yellow jacket. He was a crazed, lunatic insect, that wouldn’t leave me alone. I ran and tried to hide, but he found me. When I turned my back to him…ZAP…he got me in the butt. I had just come out of the creek (I was bathing), so I didn’t have any clothes on. It swelled up pretty big and hurt like hell.

      • Del
      • July 17th, 2013

      Of course yellow jackets behave differently from bees.

    • DELORES STOTZ
    • July 10th, 2013

    DELORES
    JULY 10/13
    THANK YOU FOR THE IMFORMATION. I THINK I HAVE BUMBLEBEES. I’LL LEAVE THEM THERE TILL WINTER , THEN I WILL REMOVE THE NEST. THANK YOU AGAIN FOR YOUR HELP.

    • Alex
    • July 12th, 2013

    Just wondered if the presence of bumblebees will keep honeybees away. I planted some bee balm in my backyard. A week ago the major bees were honeybees (no bumblebees). Now its bumblebees (no honeybees).

    • Its because of what is in ‘flow’ in your area. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Honey_flow
      Honeybees are polyamorous monogamists, this means that when a flow is on, they are after only that 1 nectar source. I dont think there is competition, there is just a change of heart with the honeybees, its all about bang for their buck, so if sweet clover is on, which it is here in Alberta and the prairie provinces and states, then they will go for that over the bee balm. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sweet_clover

    • Alex
    • July 12th, 2013

    I wondered too if time of day had something to do with it. Usually I saw the honeybees in the late afternoon and evening. The bumblebees I saw today were at midday.

    • Alex
    • July 14th, 2013

    I just went to check on the bee balm again. It’s about 6PM. All bumblebees. No honeybees, no butterflies. I’m not sure I like the way this is turning out. I’d like my butterflies back, please. And the honeybees.

  2. I found this to be very educational. I was not aware that a bumble bee and a honey bee were two different bee types. Good to know! I just learned that I have a nest of bumble bees under my shed. I wanted them gone but not killed. Because of this information I will just leave them alone. I shan’t bother them and I know they won’t bother me. Thank you for this valuable info.

    • Oh, that makes us so happy! Thank you for sharing your change of heart. Bumblebees need love too!

  3. I found a bumblebee in a bucket of water and took him out and put him on a leaf to dry out but the ants started to go after him. So I brought him inside. I didn’t know what to do but maybe it was the wrong thing, Anyway, I put a little sugar water on a qtip and he drank, then I used a very small dropper that I use for bach rescue and he drank. He was almost dead and overnight he came to and got better and better. I fed him the next morning and then released him and he was healthy and flying perfectly! I video taped the release. I always watch out for the little critters too, have rescued butterflies, wasps, honey bees, hummingbirds and any critter that needs help, I want to be there for all of God’s critters, because every one is here for a reason and all are vital to this world. Great page, thanks <3

    • Arthur Nord Peterson
    • August 10th, 2013

    I have thistles in the back yard- TEN feet high covered in blooms. I have bumble bees, honey bees, wasps, hornets, yellow jackets, humming birds, wild canaries, cardinals, and bluejays, and crows. I talk to all of them, make sure they have water, pet the bumble bees, save the wasps and hornets when they get stuck in the water, and don’t bother them . I’ve had wasps, hornets, and yellow jackets crawl on the underside of my cap bill while I’m wearing it. I find they are as curious about us as I am about them. They are my friends and I respect them. I won’t kill any of them even if they sting, which doesn’t happen very often. Sign me Dirt in Moon.

    • wendy reuter
    • September 16th, 2013

    i am a honeybee keeper. Thank you for explaining the difference between a. honey bee and a bumble bee. The story about rescuing the bumble bee from the bucket of water and the person who found the bumble bee on her floor was awsome! No matter how small a creature, each one is here for a purpose and deserves a chance to live..Every act of kindness in some small way makes a difference.

    • Samantha
    • December 16th, 2013

    Who wrote this article?

  4. You’re article was very informative!! I did not know that bumblebees were not honey bees. I think there is a lot of naivety out there, and with the dangers that our bee populations have to live with, more information like yours is NECESSARY so everyone understands and can give a helping hand/act appropriately!

    Have you ever been interviewed on the CBC or something like that?

  5. I was clearing the overgrown fencerows just outside my property, and back by my cesspool, I luckily noticed some friendly adorable huge fuzzy black bumblebees flying around, nothing unusual, so I stopped to watch them for a while. Then I noticed a few smaller ones were the tan or golden color like honeybees but much bigger…. This really got my attention, so I got a chair and some homemade mango wine and kicked back to observe them…. It wasn’t very long before they showed me where their hive was. It is a cut down trash tree stump they have made into quite a nice condo…. and I was getting very close to clearing that area next. Now I have decided to work around them, preserving their hive, because they are actually cool to watch. I will be moving my aquaponics hot tub tank over closer to them to cover my cesspool with some additional timber framing to support it, then I will be planting a massive area of a couple different kinds of sweet clover… I have a lot of downed OHIA tree which works great to build border fencing, which I will use to create my Bumble Bee Sanctuary…. I am also beginning my education into honey bees, hives, honey extraction, open feeding, honey bee wax making and uses…. Goodbye boring times!!!! I bet once I really draw in lots of bees, My citrus, papaya, and avocado trees will really go off, not even mentioning my aquaponics gardens….

    • Author Unknown
    • February 20th, 2014

    I once saw a bee
    in a group of three.

    I slapped my knee,
    said ‘can it be’?

    Then, without warning, like a leopard snoring,
    an apple fell out of the tree.

    So, I took my old kettle,
    and posed a riddle…

    Can a honeybee sing,
    while it pees, if no one is around to hear it?

    – Author unknown (to most people)

    • El BeeDerino
    • February 20th, 2014

    I like bees very much, bee good for flower, bee make good juice, no kill bee my brothers, unite!

    • DK
    • February 20th, 2014

    Thank for the educational article. I was not sure how honeybees and bumble bees weer different but now I know, thanks to you!

  6. Great article, thanks for sharing :)

    • Holly Lomax
    • April 24th, 2014

    I once found a bee in a puddle it couldn’t move so i took it out and layed it on my table in the sun to dry, it eventually did and flew away :) xxx

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