Bumble bees, with their robust bodies, colorful bands of “fur” and audible “buzz” while in flight are the most well recognized of the native bees in Washington State. Equipped with pollen-collecting hairy bodies and “pollen baskets” on their hind legs for transport, plus the ability to “buzz pollinate” flowers when necessary, bumble bees are effective pollinators of many crops, (Figure 1) home garden plants, ornamentals, and native plants. Some researchers are concerned that bumble bee diversity and abundance in North America are in decline. WSU Extension is hopeful that public awareness and appreciation of bumble bees and their role in pollination will encourage homeowners to better conserve and protect bumble bees in home landscapes here in the Pacific Northwest.
This publication will help readers recognize bumble bees, understand their general life cycle, and suggest things homeowners and the general public can do to encourage these fascinating and beneficial insects.
Bees are just one of the families in the order Hymenoptera that also includes ants, wasps, and sawflies. Washington State has at least 23 species of bumble bee, but several of them have similar black, yellow, or reddish markings, so identification can be difficult. To add to the difficulty, considerable variation exists within species and, in some species, the males can look quite different from the female workers and queen bumble bees of the same species. Online keys are available to help with identification (Koch et al. 2012).