Fun Friday: Bumblebee Queen
Beloved bumblebees. Most of us love them. At 43:56-minutes, this video by FPLANETA FPLANET is longer than we normally post, but it is well worth watching the captivating documentary about the cycle of bumblebee life in this pristine Alpine area.
The bumblebee queen hibernates for six months, through the winter, in the foothills of the Alps. The glycol that is naturally found in her blood keeps her from freezing to death as she waits for the Sun to awaken her. As she takes off for her first spring flight, she is hungry and her search for fast food begins.
Once she consumes some nectar and pollen, the next thing on her list is to find a ground hollow for breeding, preferably one that was dug by another creature. If she can’t find one, a nesting box will do. She sets up a honey pot and fills it with nectar in case there is bad weather outside. She builds tiny cups for her fertilized eggs, unlike the more famous honeycomb that is created by the honeybee. She places 5-15 eggs in each container and within 20 days the larva in each egg will pupate. She treats every egg to make sure it is undamaged and seals the small bowls so the babies can start to grow.
Outside spring blooms are bursting forth with yellow pollen everywhere. Bumblebees work about 18 hours every day and visit many more blossoms on a daily basis than honeybees do. A bumblebee needs 150 ml of sugar daily for her survival.
Back in the nest bumblebee queen huddles with each ball and brings the temperature up to 86 degrees Fahrenheit. As the balls hatch, one after the other, they are all worker bees. She may create as many as 500 workers throughout the summer.
Bumblebees have been seen flying at elevations of 20,000 feet in India, and in the Alps, they have been spotted on glaciers. The buff-tailed bumblebee creates colonies at up to 9,000 feet high. Dumbledore bumblebees and the mountain forest bumblebee like cold weather and their fur keeps them warm.
Brown bears also live high in the mountains and can smell honey from hundreds of feet away. They are mostly vegetarians that enjoy eating insects and the honey they steal from wild bees. Even if bees sting them, a bear will dig out the honey from the earth with his powerful paws and claws, raid and destroy their bee nest.
The monkshood bumblebee lives between 2,600-8,200 feet above sea level in the Alps and has a co-dependent and co-evolutionary relationship with the monkshood flower which is poisonous. The long-tongued bee developed the longest proboscis ever to gather nectar from these bizarrely shaped flowers. The flower depends entirely on this bee for pollination, and the bee must climb over the stamens to get to the nectaries.
As summer peaks, the luxurious splendor of colorful flowers wanes. Cornflowers fade. Farmers who practice near-natural farming have begun to cut their grasses in stages, so insects have more time to collect nectar and pollen. Flower gardens with a rich diversity of native plants are very important at this stage. Austria has established feeding stations to assist hungry bumblebees at this tricky time of year when their food sources diminish.
As the season comes to an end and autumn sets in, there is tension in the nest. The workers attack the queen and kill her. She is killed by her own offspring after working tirelessly to create them and their home. She has served her purpose and is disposed of in this thankless cycle of who rules the colony. The new queens hatched near the end of summer leave their underground nests for their mating flights. Smaller drones follow them hoping for a chance to mate. Mating lasts for half an hour or more and the bumblebee queen will be able to start a new colony next spring after hibernation.
The crocuses announce that frost is just around the corner. As the leaves fall, so do the last of the bumblebees. The colonies all die because winter has arrived. Bumblebee queen finds a hiding place under moss and dead leaves, where she’ll await spring when the Sun awakens her to establish her new colony. Nature awaits the spring flight of the bumblebee queen so the cycle can begin again, and life goes on.
How are you helping your local bumblebees this summer?
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