What are Bumble Bees?

Bumble bees are important pollinators of wildflowers and crops known for their large hairy bodies. Their fuzziness also makes them excellent pollinators as they transport a lot of pollen while foraging. Bumble bees are social bees, capable of forming colonies of hundreds of individuals. There are 46 different species that call North America home. They occupy a wide range of habitats; prairies, meadows, mountainous ranges, savannas, agricultural landscapes, wetlands, and even urbanized areas. Bumble bee colonies rely on blooming flowers from early spring to fall to supply them with their only food, pollen and nectar. In addition to flowers, bumble bees need places to make nests (sheltered spots with insulating material, like abandoned rodent nests or dried grass clumps), as well as places for queens, the only ones to survive the winter, to hibernate (underground, often near wooded areas).

Bombus borealis queen on clover by Tiffani Harrison

Why are they important?

Roughly 26% of our North American bumble bee species are assessed to be at some level of conservation concern, and nearly 20% of the species are too data deficient to be assessed. Several species are vulnerable to extinction and there is the possibility that some species may already be extinct. It is likely that there isn’t a single factor to attribute to bumble bee decline, but rather a combination of factors and stressors. Although some species are at risk, populations of other species appear stable and, in some cases, increasing and expanding their ranges.

Bombus nevadensis by Tiffani Harrison

How can you help?

You can help bumble bees by 1 ) creating and maintaining habitat to support bumble bees and other pollinators, 2) helping to monitor bumble bee populations, 3) reducing risks from commercial bumble bee production, and 4) supporting research focused on bumble bee conservation.

Habitat

Bumble bees need a diversity of flowers blooming from early spring through late fall. They also need places to nest and spend the winter. Check out these resources for more information on creating habitat for bumble bees and other pollinators.

Ecoregional Planting Guides
Climate Change and Bumble Bees Brochure
Bumble Bee Nests

Monitor Bumble Bees

Many bumble bee species are in decline and it is vitally important to know where they are located so we can help their populations recover. Connect with monitoring efforts in your area and improve your ID skills with these guides.

Bumble Bee Watch
iNaturalist

Backyard Bumble Bee Count

Pacific Northwest Bumble Bee Atlas

Nebraska Bumble Bee Atlas

Missouri Bumble Bee Atlas

Minnesota Bumble Bee Atlas

Great Plains Bumble Bee Atlas

Wisconsin Bumble Bee Brigade

Queen Quest

Insects of Iowa

Photo by Elaine Evans

Bumble Bee Identification Resources

ID Guides Covering all of North America

Bumble Bees of North America

Discover Life

Bumble Bee Watch


Regional ID Guides

Bumble Bees of the Eastern United States

Bumble Bees of the Western United States


State/Provincial ID Guides

Bumble Bees of Calgary

Ohio Bumble Bee ID Video

Guide to Minnesota Bumble Bees

Bumble Bees of WI

Bumble Bees of Illinois and Missouri

Nebraska Bumble Bee ID Guide

Bumble Bees of Southwest Oregon

Bumble Bees of Iowa


ID Guides for Species of Conservation Concern

Pocket Guide to Identifying the Rusty Patched Bumble Bee

Rusty-patched Bumble Bee Identification

Rusty-patched bumble bee ID: queens

Pocket Guide to Identifying the Yellowbanded Bumble Bee

Pocket Guide to Identifying the Western Bumble Bee

Reduce risk from commercial bumble bee production

Commercially produced bumble bees may put wild bumble bees at risk by transmitting diseases or parasites. See white papers below.

Developing a Commercial Bumble Bee Clean Stock Certification Program: A white paper of the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign Bombus Task Force

DOWNLOAD WHITE PAPER

Importation of Non-Native Bumble Bees into North America: Potential Consequences of Using Bombus terrestris and Other Non-Native Bumble Bees for Greenhouse Crop Pollination in Canada, Mexico, and the United States.

DOWNLOAD WHITE PAPER

Research Priorities

Imperiled bumble bee conservation efforts can be improved with attention to key knowledge gaps and research questions. Imperiled bumble bee conservation efforts can be improved with attention to key knowledge gaps and research questions. These knowledge gaps are in five main areas: 1. Effects of stressors on population, colony and/or individual survival and health, 2. population level questions, 3. colony or individual level questions, 4. monitoring, and 5. emerging techniques.

Bombus terricola by Shannon Svensrud

In your proposal, demonstrate how your proposal will positively affect imperiled Bombus conservation - expected outcomes and implications.

Stressors for bumble bees of conservation concern include pathogens and disease, pesticides, small populations and possible loss of genetic diversity, competition and disease transmission from managed bees (primary concerns are managed honey bees and bumble bees), habitat degradation and loss, and climate change.

Population level questions include research about population health, dispersal ecology of males and queens, mating, genetics, and long-term recovery.

Colony/individual level questions include research about general habitat needs, foraging, colony growth, overwintering, nesting, and habitat management and improving management buy-in.

Although monitoring is ongoing, questions to improve monitoring techniques include estimations of the probability of detection, identification of the covariates affecting detection, and how to ensure data are comparable.

Bumble bee conservation research could benefit from new techniques to address many of the above questions, such as techniques to improve the detection of nests, collections of genetic materials, and pathogen sampling.