Orange-belted Bumble Bee (Bombus ternarius)

Orange-belted Bumble Bee Feeding


The Orange-belted Bumble Bee (Bombus ternarius) is a common and important bee in the area of French Hill Pond. It is also called a Tricolored Bumble Bee or Red-tailed Bumble Bee by some authorities. The latter alternative name, Red-tailed Bumble Bee, is misleading in that the Bombus lapidarius is also called Red-tailed Bumble Bee and, unlike the Bombus ternarius, actually has a red posterior. The family name is Apidae and the order name is Hymenoptera. "Bombus" is Latin for "buzzing." "Ternarius" is from the Latin for "three parts." The family name is from the Latin, "apis," which means "bee."

Like other bees, the Orange-belted Bumble Bee (Bombus ternarius) lives in colonies with three groups having distinct functions and slightly different markings. The queen and the workers have black heads with some yellow hairs. The drones (males) have yellow heads with some black hairs. The thorax and first segment of the abdomen in all three groups are yellow except for a black band in the wing area. A segment is a band of color on the abdomen. The next two abdominal segments for all three groups are orange. The remaining abdominal segments in the queen and workers are black. The drones differ by having one yellow segment following the orange abdominal segments. The remaining segments of the drone's abdomen are black with some yellow on the sides. The photograph above shows a drone. The yellow coloring of the drone in the photograph below appears pale and almost white in contrast to the bright yellow of the goldenrod on which the drone is feeding.

These bees are about ½ inch (1.4 centimeters) long, hairy and robust. The adults eat nectar and the larvae eat the honey these bees produce. They prefer the nectar of goldenrods and milkweeds. Before the introduction of the Honey Bee in North America, this species was the only bee producing honey. However, it produces very little honey and is not normally commercially raised to produce honey. Honey Bees (Apis mellifera) are NOT Bumble Bees.

Orange-belted Bumble Bee (Bombus ternarius)

The nests are constructed in a hole in the ground. Only fertile females will survive the winter and begin a new colony in the spring. The queen and workers both produce offspring by mating with the drones. New queens leave the nest to establish a new colony. In the fall, drones and non-fertile workers are driven from the nest.

The buzzing of the Bumble Bee is a sound generated by the flight muscles, NOT the wings. A Bumble Bee can decouple its flight muscles from the wings and vibrate the flight muscles to warm their bodies. Therefore, Bumble Bees can emit a buzzing sound even though their wings are not moving. Bumble Bees do not have ears but feel vibrations from noise.

The Orange-belted Bumble Bee (Bombus ternarius) is native to Maine and a very important pollinator. It should not be disturbed. These bees have stingers that lack barbs and, therefore, can sting numerous times. However, they are not very aggressive and will not sting unless they feel threatened.


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