Bumblebees are hard to miss with their furry, bright bodies landing on flowers and humming through the grass. These backyard buddies are responsible for a considerable amount of pollination, making them essential to our long-term survival. But how long does a single bumblebee live?
How long do bumblebees live? Bumblebees live an average of four weeks; however, the queen bee will live up to a full year. The lifespan of a bumblebee is heavily dependent on its role in the colony and the species of bumblebee. Where queens will live an entire cycle (one year), worker bees won’t survive longer than 12 weeks.
In this article, we’ll cover everything from why bumblebees are important and the life cycle of a bumblebee to how long each colony member can expect to live. We’ll also cover factors that might be cutting the life expectancy of the bumblebee.
Lifespan of a Bumblebee
Bumblebees live in highly organized social structures within their colony, which go through a predictable cycle each year. Their roles and sex are a big determiner of how long they will live. However, in general, the average bumblebee should live around one month.
Let’s take a closer look at some different kinds of bumblebees and how their roles in the hive can affect their lifespan.
How Long Do Queen Bumblebees Live?
A single queen bee is the longest-reigning colony member and lives for an entire cycle: about one year.
The queen begins her life near the end of the summer and is born to start a brand new colony of her own. In the fall, she leaves the nest to mate, feed heavily, and look for a place to spend the winter.
Queens are the only members of the colony that ‘overwinter.’ They hide under dead trees, in the ground, and abandoned animal burrows for the cold season. When Spring arrives, it’s time for the queen to get to work on a whole new colony.
She lays the first batch of eggs – going out to find food for them herself, and keeping them warm with her body. In two weeks, the eggs hatch. The first larvae turn into foraging bees, who take over providing food for the colony while the queen focuses on egg-laying.
Eventually, new queens hatch in the late summer, the old queen dies, and the cycle repeats, with new queens setting out to start new hives.
How Long Do Worker Bees Live?
Worker bumblebees are exclusively female and spend the first four weeks as eggs and then larvae. They are the first colony members born in the Spring when the new queen wakes up from hibernation. Most of the bumblebees you see buzzing around pollinating are these female worker bees.
Among the worker bees, there are foragers and ’house bees.’ The foragers, very expectedly, gather nectar and pollen and bring them back to the colony. These tend to be the larger worker bees. House bees create honey, feed larvae, and defend the hive.
Though a bee may spend most of its life on a single task, each worker bee can do it all. If the needs of the colony change – they run low on food, have a surplus of food, or are under attack – the worker bee may change its role.
Foraging bees tend to have a shorter life span than their house bee counterparts. A forager bee lives an average of three weeks, and a house bee that spends all of its time in the hive, never turning into a forager, can live up to 12 weeks. This number varies between bumblebee species.
How Long Do Drone Bees Live?
Drones or male bees are the shortest-lived members of the hive. They are born at the same time as new queens but have no stingers and have only one purpose: to find and mate with a new queen.
The males swarm from the nest and fly far away – sometimes many miles – looking for a new queen from a different colony. Most males will not end up mating, and after about two weeks, they all die.
Where Do Bumblebees Live?
Much the same as other hive-like insects, bumblebees tend to look for sheltered, dark areas in which they may build their colonies. This could be underground, in an attic space, or even in tall, dense grass.
Do Bumblebees Live in Colonies?
Bumblebees live in small colonies of a few hundred. A single bumblebee won’t last long on its own (unless it’s a queen getting ready to create a new colony), and they rely on other members of the hive for foraging and protection.
Each bee has a role to play in the colony, regardless of how short its lifespan is.
Do Honeybees and Bumblebees Live Together?
Bumblebees and honeybees are related but quite different creatures and never live in the same hive. Honeybees are extremely social – their colonies can be tens of thousands strong, and the whole colony lives through the winter. They usually make their hives at least nine feet (2.74 meters) above the ground, in hollows in trees, poles, and even walls.
Bumblebees also live together, but their colonies are usually just a few hundred and prefer to be closer to the ground in fallen trees and old animal burrows. As mentioned previously, the queen is the only bumblebee to survive the winter.
Are There Any Bumblebees That Live Alone?
Though we usually picture bees living and working together, most species of bees live alone.
Bumblebees, however, only live together in colonies.
Solitary bees might live near other groups of bees but lay their eggs and supply their own food. Their proximity is usually just due to a particularly good habitat that other bees want to take advantage of too.
What Kind of Bumblebees Live In the Ground?
Most species of bumblebees live underground. Some, like the two-spotted bumblebee, the confusing bumblebee, and the half-black bumble bee, can also be found just above the surface or in hollow logs and trees. Many prefer to use old rodent dens and animal burrows, and all avoid intense, direct sunlight.
Bumblebee Life Cycle Facts
The life cycle and longevity of a single bumblebee depends on its sex and role in the colony, and all but the queen will die before winter. Unlike honeybees, the colony follows a strict, one-year cycle.
Life Cycle of a Bumblebee Colony
The bumblebee colony begins when a queen bee wakes from hibernation or “overwintering.” Having left the old colony, it is her responsibility to start anew.
The life cycle of a bumblebee colony is as follows:
1. The queen starts a new nest underground or just above the ground in trees or leaf litter.
2. Working alone, the queen takes care of the brand new nest in its early stages: she leaves to forage and feeds the larvae.
3. When the first batch of worker bees are adults, they leave to take over the foraging and protecting the nest.
4. The queen is now free to focus on laying eggs.
5. Near the end of summer, new queens and male bumblebees hatch and soon leave to mate.
6. In just a few weeks, the drones will die, and the new queens settle into their nesting areas to wait out the winter.
7. The rest of the old hive dies, and in the Spring, the process begins again.
What Climate do Bumblebees Live In?
Bumblebees require just the right temperatures in order to thrive: too hot, and they will stop flying altogether, too cold, and the hive may die prematurely.
Similarly, bumblebees need flowers to pollinate, which also require ambient temperatures to survive.
What Ecosystem Do Bumblebees Live In?
Just about anywhere you find flowering plants, you can find bumblebees, and different species make their home in woods, deserts, and forests. They thrive in cooler climates as they adapt to cold weather with their furry bodies and strong wings to keep them warm in flight.
How Do Bumblebees Live Through the Winter?
She then looks for a suitable place to spend the winter, usually underground in a spot protected from direct sunlight (to avoid triggering the end of hibernation early) and away from intense wind and snowfall.
As the weather gets colder, vital functions slow to the point of just keeping the queen alive. When the weather warms, the queen bees come out of hibernation and begin to feed.
More Information About Bumblebees
Bumblebees are fascinating creatures, and there is so much to learn about them. For example, did you know that they don’t die after using their sting as honey bees do?
Let’s take a look at some more interesting facts about the humble bumblebee.
Do Bumblebees Typically Live Underground?
As discussed, most bumblebees live underground, though you can find some species that make their homes in leaf litter or under fallen trees on the ground surface. In general, they are seeking out protected areas with protection from the weather and possible attacks.
There are some, like the red-belted bumblebee, that are just as happy underground as above.
Do Bumblebees Live in Walls?
Bumblebees cannot bore into wood or solid structures – they make their homes in pre-made cavities like old animal burrows.
Still, some species, like tree bumblebees, might make a nest in exposed insulation, an open crawl space, or perhaps a large hole in the side of a building.
Bumblebees don’t make excess honey, and the colony dies over the winter, so it’s unlikely that a bumblebee hive would cause structural damage if it takes up residence in a wall.
How Long Can Bumblebees Live Without Food?
Bumblebees are large and heavy. It takes a lot of energy to beat their wings fast enough to fly, and they need to feed often. That being said, you might be amazed to learn that bumblebees can starve to death in as little as 40 minutes without food.
Queens, during hibernation, can live on a full honey stomach for up to nine months, but her body is functioning only enough to survive.
Where Do Bumblebees Live in the World?
The bumblebee is not well adapted to very hot temperatures. In fact, rising temperatures worldwide have driven some species out of areas where they used to thrive. In some areas, like South America and Southeast Asia, bumblebees can only be found in cooler, mountainous regions.
The lifespan and life cycle of a bumblebee are very dependent on its role in the colony and slightly less so on the exact species. Queen bees live about one year, whereas worker bees average about a month and drones only about two weeks.
Bumblebees live across the world, feeding on and pollinating many kinds of flowering plants but require areas with seasonable weather and cooler climates to thrive. They are unique not just because they form colonies (most bees live alone) but also because their hives last only a year and don’t produce consumable honey.
List of Sources
Michigan Natural Features Inventory. Bombus pensylvanicus (American bumble bee).
Hines, H. (2020) One of the most common North American bumble bee species is actually two species. Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences.
Merchant, M. (2016). Insects in the City – Bumble bees. Texas A&M AgriLife Extension.
Gardner, K., Klass, C., Calderone, N. (2004). Stinging Insects: Bumble Bees. Cornell Cooperative Extension of Oneida County.
Hood, M. (1998). Bumble bees around the home. Clemson University.