There’s a buzz in the air and we could hear it all the way down the hill! Bumbling from bloom to bloom, we found her. A gentle bumble bee among our flower pots. She’s one of the most important pollinators for crops as a native bee species. Join us as we compare the honey bee vs bumble bee in our study today. Add our FREE Honey Bee Bumble Bee Venn Diagram and activities to your nature notebooking.
What’s the difference between a honey bee and a bumble bee?
1. Bumble bees are more plump than honey bees
Is your bee chubby and round? Both honey bees and bumble bees have a black and yellow stripe pattern, but bumble bees are much rounder. Honey bees are more slender with three distinct sections (head, thorax, and abdomen). The bumble bee is so round, her head and thorax look like one section. She is also about twice as big as a honey bee, at 1 inch long, and much fuzzier. Just look how she is covered with briskly hairs from her head to the tip of her abdomen. It’s one of the things that makes the bumble bee a very effective pollinator. Honey bees have some hair on their thorax, but much less on the rest of their bodies. Both carry pollen in special ‘baskets’ on their hind legs. These two types of bees are the only bees that have pollen baskets in North America
2. Bumble bees nest underground and are less social than honey bees
Wild honey bees like to build elaborate nests above ground to protect themselves from predators. You might find them high up in a tree, or under the ledge of your house. Their hives are very organized, made of tidy little hexagon cells that are expertly built by the worker bees. It is truly an amazing piece of engineering! Thousands of honey bees live together in a colony. Each has their own job based on their age and work together to create a thriving family.
Bumble bees nest underground, often in an abandoned field mouse burrow or the nooks found in a house’s foundation. Every spring we have a few bumble bees wander up from our basement as they wake up from their winter slumber. We live in an century home with a stone foundation. The bumble bees love to find the spaces between the stones to build a home. Unlike honey bees which may live in the same hive for many years, bumble bees make a new nest each spring. The queen is the only one to survive over the winter and emerges once the weather warms to find her next nesting location. You’ll see her flying low to the ground in a zig zag search for the perfect spot. Once she’s found it she will begin building wax ‘pots’ to lay her eggs. She fills it with nectar and pollen for the larva to eat once they hatch. After she has a few worker bees helping her out, the queen will no longer forage and focus on egg laying. The worker bees take over all the other responsibilities of foraging, nursing the young, and defense. Jobs are randomly assigned based on the colony’s need, which only has a few hundred members. Watch this video by David Goulson for a look inside a bumble bee nest. How is the structure of a honey bee vs bumble bee nest different?
3. Bumble bees make less ‘honey’ than honey bees
One of the reasons honey bees have been domesticated is their ability to make excess honey. They create these honey stores to feed the colony over the winter months when fresh food from flowers is not available. Those worker bees are so busy, they don’t realize when they have made enough and will simply go on collecting and producing honey until they run out of flowers. The nectar is transformed into something that can last and won’t go bad. A special enzyme, called invertase, in the honey bee’s stomach breaks down the nectar’s sucrose into simpler glucose and fructose sugars. Additional enzymes take away any bacteria and raises the acidity to preserve it. Think of when we make homemade jams. We have to make sure the acidity is a certain level or else bacteria will grow and could make us sick. This nectar solution is passed from one honey bee to another inside the hive to lower its water content. It becomes thicker and once it reaches the right consistency, they pack it into honeycomb cells and cap it with wax.
Bumble bees don’t need these honey stores because every bumble bee, except the queen, finishes their life cycle as winter approaches. The queen hibernates until spring. Instead, they have short-term stores of nectar that they keep in their wax ‘honey pots’ for the queen and young to feed on. It doesn’t go through the same transformation that it would need to for long term storage. Depending on your definition of honey, there’s debate whether bumble bees make ‘honey’ or just have a type of nectar storage.
4. Bumble bees are better pollinators than honey bees
Bumble bees have amazing pollinating powers and are loved by farmers for helping crops grow. They are one of the larger bee species in North America. Those big, hairy bodies actually build a positive electric charge as they fly produced by the friction of air molecules moving past them. Pollen has a negative charge which is attracted to their positively charged bodies. Being larger gives the bumble bee more surface area than a honey bee for pollen to collect. They also have a neat ability to ‘buzz pollinate’ which is needed for some plant species. Blueberries, zucchinis, tomatoes, and peppers all require buzz pollination in order to reproduce. Their pollen is trapped inside the anthers and can only be released by the vibrations produced by a bumble bee rapidly vibrating their flight muscles. These vibrations create that familiar buzz we have all come to know and love. Lastly, bumble bees are adapted to our colder climates. They are the first bee out foraging in the spring. They are able to raise their body temperature enough for flying by ‘shivering,’ while the honey bee remains cozy and warm in their hive waiting for warmer mornings.
5. Bumble bees are native to North America
Bumble bees are one of our native North American bee species, along with sweat bees and mason bees. Honey bees were initially introduced to North America beginning in the early 1600’s as a source of honey and wax. They have since become one of the most important pollinators in our ecosystems.
Honey Bee vs Bumble Bee Activities
Explore photos of bumble bees and honey bees to draw an example of each in your nature journal today. Encourage your child to add their favorite honey bee vs bumble bee facts alongside their sketches. Talk about each of the points above, including the physical differences between the honey bee vs bumble bee, their nesting behavior, and pollination. Join the newsletter at the end of this post for a FREE Honey Bee vs Bumble Bee Venn Diagram to compare. You’ll also find a FREE Honey Bee and Bumble Bee coloring page for your younger learners to enjoy, and FREE Bee Writing Paper if your older learners would like to write a honey bee vs bumble bee compare and contrast essay. You’ll find all of these resources, along with many more in our subscriber community. Get the link in your welcome email or included in your latest Books and Willows Newsletter.
Bees Curious Trails Nature Studies
Learn more about honey bees and their cousins in our Bees Curious Trails Nature Study. Throughout each CURIOUS TRAILS NATURE STUDY you’ll find open-and-go topic study guides and lots of hands-on-activities ranging from S.T.E.M. projects, art invitations, nature journaling, cooking together, and more! Check out the listing in our shop to explore.
Have fun with our buzzing friends!