Bumble bees all belong to the genus Bombus in the family Apidae, the same family as honey bees, digger bees, squash bees, orchid bees, and stingless bees. They have special adaptations for colder weather including their long, thick hair, and are more commonly found in colder climates. Minnesota is home to 24 of the 45 species known from North America. Bumble bees have an annual colony life cycle, starting with the emergence of queens in the spring, colony founding, production of workers, growth of the colony, production of males and queens, mating, and ending with hibernation of newly mated queens.
Bumble bees are better studied than many other native bees, so we know more about their conservation status. Unfortunately, in North America 1 out of 3 species is in decline. The causes of these declines are thought to include habitat loss, pesticides, pathogens, and climate change. Minnesota bumble bee species thought to be in decline include Bombus affinis, Bombus ashtoni Bombus fervidus, Bombus fraternus, Bombus pensylvanicus, Bombus terricola, and Bombus variabilis.
On March 21, 2017, the rusty patched bumble bee, Bombus affinis, became the first bee in the continental U.S. to be given protection by the US Fish and Wildlife Service as an endangered species. Visit the USFWS to get the latest updates on where rusty patched bumble bees have been found and what we can do to help protect them. Minnesota is one of the few places on the planet where we can still find rusty patched bumble bees. We all can help them by planting flowers they prefer, creating nesting habitat by leaving corners of your yard untended and creating woodpiles, and keeping flowers and potential nesting sites free of pesticides. Help scientists and conservationists track populations by joining citizen science efforts to track bumble bees.
Do you think you have seen a rusty-patched bumble bee? Check out our rusty-patched bumble bee identification guide to learn how to tell the rusty-patched bumble bee from other bumble bee species.
Helping Bumble Bees
You can help bumble bees by providing them with food and shelter. Bumble bees get all their food from flowers. They visit a wide range of flowers. Their favorites include gooseberry (Ribes), bee balm (Monarda fistulosa), anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum), asters and many more. To provide shelter, the best option to encourage bumble bee nesting in gardens is to create habitat, rather than putting in "houses". The basics of what they need are a sheltered space with insulating material. This can be a compost pile, piles of dried grass at the base of native grasses, or a raised bed that has sticks and logs at the base (look up hugelkultur to learn more). If you are able to leave leaves on the ground and add some logs to leave to rot, they seem to be attracted to those. Some people do make houses that bumble bees can use for nesting. People who put out houses have a 0-10% success rate so it may not be worth the effort compared to habitat creation. If you would like to try, the Bumble Bee Conservation Trust has created a guide: Making a bumble bee nest (PDF).
Guide to MN Bumble Bees
Species level bumble bee identification can be challenging. If you are able to take photos, you can submit them to Bumble Bee Watch where experts will verify your identifications. If you are ready for a challenge, you can print out this free identification for Minnesota bumble bees.
Befriending Bumble Bees: A practical guide to raising local bumble bees
ALA Godort 2008 Notable Government Document Award Winner
Evans, E.; Burns, I.; Spivak, M.
In "Befriending Bumble Bees", you will learn how to raise your own colonies of bumble bees. This step by step guide provides you with all the information you will need to find, capture, house, and feed the next generation of bumble bees. Bumble bees are formidable pollinators, pollinating crops such as tomatoes, cranberries, blueberries, and squash, in addition to native wildflowers. Enjoy the benefits these bees can provide to your gardens and crops while helping to support native ecosystems by encouraging populations of these amazing bees. 76 pp. Full color. For beekeepers, gardeners, nature lovers, and anyone interested in pollinators.
Price: $ 19.99 Purchase
orders of 10 or more are $11.99/book
What to do when you find a bumble bee nest
- Observe the bees from a safe distance
- Confirm that it is a bumble bee nest by submitting clear photos of the bees to Bumble Bee Watch or iNaturalist.
- Do not disturb the soils or other features if possible (by the time you find the nest, it may be almost finished)
- Do not try to move or relocate the nest, but let it run its course, if possible