The bumblebee shares several similarities with the honeybee.  It relies on the pollen and nectar from flowering plants for sustenance, it produces honey (however it is in amounts far too small to be harvested by people), and it bears black and yellow stripes on a furry, winged body.  But unlike its hive-dwelling cousin, the bumblebee has some fascinating nesting behavior.  When we think of bees and wasps, we usually envision a papery ball hanging from a tree branch or a wax honeycomb filled with worker bees.  While a bumblebee nest may take shape in a tree and does involve the production of some wax, their homes don’t resemble that of any other stinging insect.

When do bumblebees nest?

In the fall, a queen will mate and then store the male’s sperm inside of her in a special chamber over the winter.  When she rouses in the spring, she will seek out a sufficient place to start her brood in a dry, well-sheltered area that has some shade so the temperature of the colony can be regulated.  The queen will then fertilize her own eggs depending on the needs of the colony (fertilized eggs become female workers and unfertilized eggs become males) and lay them into brood cells where she will feed them nectar and pollen.

Where do bumblebees nest?

A bumblebee nest can develop in any number of places, but the bees usually choose a site that’s closer to the ground.  Homeowners often complain of seeing “airport activity” under their front or back stoops, which is frequently an instance of the bees accessing a ground-level or sub-ground nest.  Bumblebees are opportunistic nesters and will take advantage of pre-existing holes and cavities rather than build their own.  Common nesting areas are gaps behind siding, leaf or lumber piles, tall grass, tree hollows, bird nests, and especially rodent burrows.  If you’ve had a chipmunk infestation or rodent control problem in the past and haven’t sealed off the den site, you may be at risk for nesting bumblebees.

What does a bumblebee nest look like?

The nests often resemble piles of debris since they are lined with insulating material like leaves, animal fur, or housing insulation.  Bumblebee colonies are only about 50-400 members strong – far smaller than a honeybee’s 50,000 – so their nests aren’t nearly as extensive.  Nests consist of just a few disorganized wax cells and honeypots for feeding.

Should I remove a bumblebee nest?

It is best to leave a bumblebee nest alone whenever possible.  They are docile and very unlikely to sting, so unless someone is allergic to stinging insects, they rarely pose any kind of threat.  Bumblebees’ pollinating activity is incredibly important for the growth of flowers, fruit and vegetable-bearing plants, and flowering trees.  Even in urban and suburban settings, they are responsible for the flourishing of so many beautiful gardens and parks.  Unfortunately, bumblebee populations have been on the decline for the past several years, and destruction of local colonies can accelerate extinction.  Only the queens overwinter to create new broods in the spring, so eliminating a colony where there are future queens can eradicate several generations of bumblebees.

If you’re concerned about a bumblebee nest on your property, contact the qualified professionals at ABC Wildlife.  Our friendly staff is equipped to answer your stinging insect control questions and will be able to offer you solutions to your problem.  Our Preventative Maintenance Program is very effective for keeping stinging insects from forming nests on structures, and our technicians have years of experience removing unwanted nests.  Call us today at (847) 870-7175!

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Karen 2

Karen Jesse is a wildlife writer and educator licensed by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and the Illinois Department of Public Health in urban wildlife management and structural pest control.  She enjoys hiking, telling people how cool skunks are, and opera.  



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