When weather warms Bumblebee queens search for a colony

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By Sara Scudier

OSU Ext. master gardener volunteer


Spring will be here soon. Really, it will. Once the days are warm enough, last fall’s new queen bumblebees will emerge and start looking for a good place to start her colony.

Last fall as the days started to get shorter, her mother and sisters started feeding some of the larvae differently.

Some got more food and better food and became the new queens.

A different diet produced the drones, the males needed to complete the cycle of the colony.

After the drones and new queens mate, the males die, their job is finished.

The colony will continue to forage until the old queen and workers die.

After mating, the new queens will eat and store enough food to get her through the winter.

When the weather gets cold, she will find a place to spend the winter under leaf litter, bark or in a brush pile.

As the weather warms and days grow longer, the new queen will emerge from her winter refuge.

These early season bumblebees are very large.

They are also all queens.

For this reason, it is important to not harm these amazing creatures.

They are very unlikely to sting you as they are single-minded in their mission.

She will start to feed on the pollen and nectar in early flowers.

She’s also looking for a good location for this year’s colony.

Bumblebee colonies are hard to find.

The queen puts a great deal of effort into finding a good, secluded location for her nest. An old rodent burrow is an ideal nest site.

The queen can find old nests with her sense of smell.

You will see bumblebees flying close to the ground in an apparent random pattern looking for a good location.

Nests can be anywhere – in thick grass tufts, chinks in a stonewall or an upside down flowerpot.

During a bee identification class last summer, we found a bumblebee nest in a retaining wall very near an office building.

Luck and good observation skills allowed someone to notice the bees entering and leaving the colony. People had been walking past the colony all summer and no one else had noticed the activity.

Once each queen finds a suitable nest location she works vigorously, beginning to gather both nectar and pollen.

Proximity of the nest site to a rich patch of flowers is critical for the energy economy of bumblebees.

She creates wax pots that are used to contain nectar and pollen and to provide a safe place to lay eggs.

Eventually, enough workers emerge to do all of the foraging and the queen can concentrate on reproducing.

Bumblebees are native pollinators. They are important in food production as the primary pollinators of tomatoes, blueberries, raspberries, peppers and much more.

You can help bumblebees by providing sources of food such as flowers and shrubs.

For information on how you can help bumblebees, including plants that will attract and support them, go to http://go.osu.edu/beequeen.

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