In honour of World Bee Day, May 20, 2021.
Our queen bees started to emerge from their solo winter hibernation sites in late March. They began to look for nest sites to lay their first eggs as well as food for the larvae after hatching. The queens are much larger than the females (workers) that hatch first and are now starting to appear in our open areas and gardens.
Squamish has four commonly-seen species of bumble bees.
The largest, and most common, is almost certainly the Yellow-faced bumble bee (Bombus vosnesenskii). We say “almost certainly” because there is a slight chance that some of our black and yellow bees are Fog-belt bumble bees (Bombus caliginosus). The bee in the banner photo is a queen who was foraging on April 4 on a Japonica shrub. The smaller bee was the first worker of the season on May 19, on Jacob’s ladder. These bees have short, smooth hair. Head and face are yellow and females have a narrow band of yellow at the bottom of their abdomens. Starting in August, you might see a male that has a second yellow stripe at the bottom of his abdomen.
The Yellow-fronted bumble bee (Bombus flavifrons) is our next most common bee. It is much smaller and has a long tongue which allows it to feed on flowers that are deeply-shaped. The bee pictured was going for the shallow, easy food supply in some Lithodora on May 19. The Yellow-fronted bee has several colour forms. The most common locally for females is shown here: the abdomen has yellow, then orange and then brown hair, top to bottom. Hair on the head and thorax seems pale because yellow hairs are mixed with black. Some other females have no orange but rather yellow and then a broader brown stripe. In August, the males that emerge are often almost completely yellow, with some dark bands.
You might see a Fuzzy-horned bumble bee (Bombus mixtus). Like the Yellow-fronted bumble bee, this species has long hair and yellow mixed with black on the head and thorax. The abdomen always has a dark band in the middle, with light orange at the bottom. This queen was photographed on April 15 in the area landscaped with heather at Quest University. Natural pollen sources are scarce in early spring and some species of heather are well-visited by all kinds of pollinators.
Our fourth common species is the Orange-rumped bumble bee (Bombus melanopygus). (This species is sometimes called the Black-tailed bumble bee.) The hair on this species is medium-length and even. The middle of the abdomen is startlingly dark orange, sometimes almost red. The black area at the bottom of the abdomen is often mixed with pale yellow fringes which are also found on the underbody. Queens and workers alike have this dramatic colouring. This queen was photographed on April 16 in the same patch of heather at Quest.
If you are interested in recognizing bumble bees, have a look at this excellent reference for the Pacific Northwest. All our bumble bees are included, and diagrams show some of the colour variations for females by species.