Fuzzy Wuzzy Was A Bumblebee

By Megan Wannarka

Figure 1 Bumblebee (Bombus sp.) on Speedwell flower (Veronica sp.)

“We had this beautiful huge fluffy bee living under our porch. His body was like the size of a big grape, and he seemingly lived alone. I’d never seen anything like him. Do you know what type of bee that is?” As you can see from the picture above, that large flying fluffy grape-sized bee is a bumblebee. They are the teddy bears of the bee world. 


Figure 2 Bumblebee casts sizes via Bumblebee – an overview. Retrieved August 9, 2020, from ScienceDirect Topics website: https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/immunology-and-microbiology/bumblebee

Bumble or Bombus species bees are native to North America and are generally found in the Northern Hemisphere but also found in the tropics of South America (iNaturalist). They are more active from May until October, with only the queen surviving through the entire summer to hibernate over winter to find a nest. Once a nest is found, usually around February, she builds wax cells to lay her eggs that were fertilized the previous year. The newly hatched workers feed young and forage, much like honeybee workers. And like honeybees’ queens are selected and reared to continue the cycle of life. Bumblebees like honey bees typically only live 35 to 45 days in the busy of the summer season as they are foraging every day. 

Figure 4 Heather Holm Rusty Patch Bumblebee lifecycle via https://www.pollinatorsnativeplants.com/uploads/1/3/9/1/13913231/rustypatchedlifecycle.pdf

The Rusty Patch Bumblebee (Bombus affinis) made news in 2018 for conservation efforts to save it. While it is, of course, rarely occurring in the Midwest region of the United States but has a range of 28 states and 2 providences in Canada. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Midwest Region). Since 1987 there are 503 observations of the RPB and most of them occurring in Minnesota (iNaturalist). 


The Rusty Patch Bumble is just 1 species of the 20,000 species of bees worldwide. There are 255 species of bumblebees in the world and 49 species in the United States. So, it is understandable why the loss of one species of these creatures is a big deal. 


Figure 5Rusty Patch Bumble Bee (Bombus affinis) male via (Droege, 2018)

What can you do to help bumblebees?

  • If you do find a bee not flying, you can give it some sugar water through a paper towel. Bumblebees taste with their feet, so once they are stepping in the sugar water, they will attempt to suck/drink some of it. They sometimes are stranded away from their hive with no nectar available to fuel their trip back home. In other cases, they are at the end of their 45 days in the summer. Putting them in the freezer is a quick way to put them out of their misery and also preserve them if you would like to pin them later. 
  • Plant for bumblebees; Heather Holm’s website is an excellent resource for planting for pollinators in the Midwest of the United States as she is based in Minnesota. 

  • Watch and report bumble bee sightings on iNaturalist, they help to identify what species of bumble you have seen but also is used by scientists, and in doing so you are contributing to community science! 
  • Stop using pesticides, herbicides, or any other chemical that ends in -cide, these kill insects. Encourage neighbors and your community to also do this. 

“According to laws of aerodynamics, the bumblebee cannot fly; Its body is too heavy for its wings, and that’s the simple reason why. But the bumblebee doesn’t know this fact, and so it flies anyway for all to see.”  A.S. Waldrop


Bumblebee – an overview. Retrieved August 9, 2020, from ScienceDirect Topics website: https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/immunology-and-microbiology/bumblebee 

Droege, S. (2018). Bombus affinis male side. Retrieved August 9, 2020, from Flickr website: https://www.flickr.com/photos/usgsbiml/44947274694/in/photolist-RYwjvF-2btQwPY-RYwjXx-2cvpCQU-RcQL7U-RYwjM2-RAxJht-Rzqr7S-RAxKav-R4wjfh-RcQKmA-215gRaw-R4wibo-215gFyh-NPChe8-R2PQhQ/

iNaturalist. Bumble Bees Genus Bombus. Retrieved September 8, 2020, from iNaturalist website: https://www.inaturalist.org/taxa/52775-Bombus

iNaturalist. Observations · iNaturalist. Retrieved August 9, 2020, from iNaturalist website: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations?nelat=47.283000921002596&nelng=-75.6296780141803&order=asc&order_by=observed_on&place_id=any&quality_grade=research&subview=table&swlat=38.44933916498024&swlng=-105.9759145411464&taxon_id=121519

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Midwest Region. Rusty patched bumble bee Fact Sheet. Retrieved August 9, 2020, from U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service website: https://www.fws.gov/midwest/endangered/insects/rpbb/factsheetrpbb.html