Bumble Bee or Honey Bee?
I asked some young artists I know to draw me a bee to test out a theory and here are the works of art I received!
Lovely, lovely! As you can see they are all variations of a fat, yellow and black, fuzzy bee with a stinger and rounded wings, traits associated with bumble bees. If you ask almost anyone to draw a bee, they will almost always draw a bumble bee instead of another type of bee, like a honeybee.
What is the difference between honey bees and bumble bees?
The most important thing to remember is that bumble bees are native to Canada, and honey bees are not. Honey bees were brought over from Europe centuries ago and you can mostly think of them as a domesticated animal. We raise honey bees in apiaries for honey and wax, while bumble bees are out there in the wild. Bumble bees are one of the original pollinators and are far more efficient at pollinating our native plants than a honey bee.
There are roughly 400+ species of native bee in Ontario alone, and only about 26 of those species are bumble bees. The rest are other species of mason bees, leafcutter bees, sweat bees, digger bees and long-horned bees, and many of these bees are solitary, meaning they don’t have a queen or workers or live in a colony. Who knew there were so many types of bees, right??
Fat or Fuzzy?
Bees are members of the insect group hymenoptera, along with wasps and ants. The best way to tell the difference between a wasp and any bee is the presence of some fuzz somewhere on its body. If you can see hair (fuzzy stuff), it’s definitely a bee!
But now take a look at these two pictures. Who has MORE fuzz?
The bumble bee in the bottom photo is definitely fuzzier! That extra fuzz gives it a little more of a rounded figure as opposed to the slender build of the honey bee in the top photo. At first glance its easy to confuse the two, but with some practice you’ll get better at it!
Since honey bees are not native to Canada they need some help to survive winter. Beekeepers wrap their hives and sometimes feed their bees over the winter months to make sure they get through our cold and unpredictable winters. Inside the hive the honey bees cluster around the queen and vibrate their muscles to keep warm.
Bumble bees though have a completely different strategy. Like most insects in Canada they are seasonal. A queen bumble bee emerges from hibernation— she usually hibernates underground or buried in leaf litter, finds a nest, raises some workers all by herself and starts her colony from scratch! At the end of the season the workers and old queen dies, while the new queens emerge from their wax pots, find a mate and then find a place to hibernate. These are the new queens that emerge in the spring. They are the bees that we’re seeing outside now in May: new queens collecting pollen and nectar for their brood (bee larva) back at their nest.
What about wax and honey?
Both bees make wax, just not the same way. Honeycomb is what we typically associate with bees, but only honey bees build the hexagonal shapes that they use to raise brood (more bees) and to store honey and pollen. Bumble bees make small wax pots that they store nectar and pollen in and raise their brood. Lastly, honey bees are the bees that make the honey that we eat. Bumble bees do collect nectar, but they don’t have the same enzymes and processes to make it into real honey.
Practice, practice, practice!
Next time you see a bee, stop and take a second to try to identify it! Unless you live near someone who keeps honey bees, it’s not likely that you’ll see a honey bee. You’re more likely to see the bigger, fuzzier bumbles that we typically think of when we think “bee”.
During the months of June, July and August, we are going to be doing bumble bee surveys here at Science North. This means we’ll be collecting bumble bees, identifying them and then releasing them back to the wild. The data is going to Bumble Bee Watch. This will help scientists learn about which species are found where and help conserve the bumble bee species at risk here in Ontario and Canada. Come and join us starting on June weekends for some bumble bee surveying (weather depending!), and learn about the different species that we have in our own backyard!
For more information on citizen science please visit this link! Science North is also a charitable organization, so you can donate to the Bumble Bee Citizen Science Project here at Science North. 10% of the funds we raise will be given to Wildlife Preservation Canada, who are our partners this year, for their native pollinator initiative!!