Wild Profile: Meet the bumblebee

Bumblebee By RonnySchoene/Shutterstock

Our fuzziest, burliest bee species, the bumblebee, buzzes into action in the spring. Bumblebees—in particular, tricoloured bumblebee queens—start pollinating flowers earlier than almost any other flying insect. Thanks, ladies!

Queen bees survive winter by hibernating five to 10 cm below the ground. When milder weather finally hits, they vibrate their wing muscles and warm up their bodies to about 30°C; this allows them to fly even when early spring temperatures still hover near freezing. Bumblebees can beat their wings as rapidly as 200 beats per second—that’s the same speed as a hummingbird.

Want to meet another early-riser of the insect world? Check out the mourning cloak butterfly.

Bumblebees are considered “generalists”—they’ll gather nectar from a variety of flowers. This is a survival advantage. Bees that forage for pollen from only a handful of plants (“specialists” such as the squash bee or the sunflower bee) run into trouble if their habitat changes and their target species disappear.

Do bumblebees sting? Yes, and they can sting multiple times—their stingers aren’t barbed and therefore, aren’t likely to break off. That said, on the Schmidt sting pain index, a bumblebee jab doesn’t rank nearly as high as some other bee or wasp stings. And it sure shouldn’t dissuade you from planting native species to attract them, with their pollinating prowess, to your cottage property. Tip: some research suggests that bumblebees are most attracted to blue or violet flowers, such as New England asters or purple coneflowers.

Here are 7 ways you can help Canada’s bees.

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