In the bee world, we like to keep it simple. So, we name you for what you are best known for. This is why bumble bees and honey bees are named differently.
Leafcutter bees cut leaves. Carpenter bees drill holes in wood. Mason bees build their houses from the dirt. And sweat bees love human sweat. You get the idea.
The bumble bee is known more for its loud, low buzz, while the honey bee is known for the nectar syrup we like to drizzle on our favorite pastries.
There are other differences between bumble bees and honey bees, some subtle and others glaring, that we shall explore as well.
Bumble Bees vs. Honey Bees: Size and Shape
One major difference between a bumble bee and a honey bee is their looks.
Bumblebees are slightly bigger with a more fuzzy appearance than honey bees. Their hairy bodies are superbly equipped for the pollen-collecting job they are known for.
Honey bees have less hair, which is why there are so many cases of mistaken identity between them and wasps, such as yellow jackets. Honey bees are also a little slender, and you can see the head and thorax are clearly separate.
Bumblebees, on the other hand, look like the head and thorax are one. Unless you get really close, you can’t tell where the head ends and the thorax begins.
Bumble Bee vs. Honey Bee: Nests
When we live it up to nature, honey bees live in hives far from the reach of men. Honey bees like to live it up, literally.
If a beekeeper or enthusiast doesn’t set up a beehive for them, they’ll settle for a cave, the space in your roof, or a hollowed tree. They keep above ground.
When you plan to accumulate large amounts of honey stores, you definitely want to keep it safe. Unfortunately, some of their common predators are prowlers, such as ants, skunks, and bears.
Having honey bee hives above ground allows the bees to employ gravity as a defense. I’ll give you an example. The giant honey bees of Nepal build their bee hive on cliffs that require prospective honey hunters to climb over 1000 ft to get at the honey.
On the other hand, bumble bees nest underground. They find abandoned burrows, where they build a bumble bee nest.
Although they do produce honey, they do so in small quantities. Very few members of the colony need to survive the winter, and they each go their separate ways and fend for themselves. They also sleep through the winter, so there is no need for large stores.
Bumble Bees vs. Honey Bees: Domestication
In the beekeeping community, bumble bees are still known to be wild insects and have not undergone as much genetic modification as honey bees have. Bumble bees are like wolves, while honey bees are like Labradoodles.
Over time, breeders have grafted bees for their various traits, including honey production, temperament, and, recently, varroa tolerance.
As a result, you’ll find that some honey bees will be more tolerant of your constant intrusion than a nest of bumble bees would.
Bumble Bee vs. Honey Bee: Stings
Bumble bees don’t have the numbers that their cousins have yet and have been armed with the same weapon, a stinger.
Nature has thus seen fit to boost bumblebees with the ability to sting multiple times. Meanwhile, their counterparts only get that one chance.
If they happen to waste it on your glove, so be it. Then again, when you have 50,000 sisters, you can afford to waste a sting or two because a few thousand are bound to hit their mark.
The effect of the sting on the body is similar and is most dangerous if you suffer from an allergic reaction to bee stings. Death by a honey bee is more common than bumblebee because of the numbers involved.
Africanized bees, for instance, send out more than half the colony when they are under threat.
Bumble Bee vs. Honey Bee: Numbers
Bumblebees start off with just one queen. She’s a lone ranger who finds some good real estate and settles.
She builds cells to lay her eggs and cares for them until they are old enough to start caring for others. This is when she delegates most of her homecare duties and focuses on laying the eggs. She only has a few months to do this because she’ll be gone by winter to make way for some of her daughters to become queens.
When the old queen leaves with worker bees, the new queen isn’t left alone. If she were, she would starve. She has enough labor to take care of herself, her young, and the whole honey bee hive.
The sole responsibility of the queen bee is to lay eggs. She doesn’t build combs, doesn’t clean up, doesn’t do laundry, or nurse the babies. That is left to her daughters, the worker bees.
As social insects, honeybees survive through the winter because they form clusters to keep each other warm.
Warmth is definitely a game of numbers. The more they are, the more heat they generate. Strong honey bee colonies would have bees that number in the tens of thousands, while bumblebees will only have a few hundred bees in a nest.
Bumble Bee vs. Honey Bee: Over Winter
Who doesn’t like a good cuddle when the temperatures drop? Well, it would seem that the bumblebee doesn’t care too much for bundling together with its sisters or daughters during the winter months.
In late summer, a bumble bee will lay the next generation of queens and drones. Previously, she was just laying little helpers whose purpose was to carry pollen and nectar as food for the young and care for their siblings.
Now, she’s getting ready to pass on the species torch. When the new queens emerge, they go and mate. As fall begins, they feed in order to get enough fat to last through the winter.
By the time the temperatures drop, each queen will find her own safe space where she will sleep away the chill and emerge in spring.
Honeybees do not hibernate. They reduce their outdoor activities as fall gives way to winter, but they are still conscious in the hive, moving and eating until the weather allows them to leave the safety of their nests. This is why they need to store whatever type of honey.
Unlike bumble bees, which store the food they need inside their exoskeletons, honey bees build a pantry to store excess honey to sustain the entire colony throughout the winter.
Bumble bees and honey bees may be quite similar at first glance. But now, you would know that there are several key differences between these two bee species.
No matter their differences, these two species, along with other bees, are excellent at buzz pollination.
Farmers, gardeners, and beekeepers value their presence as they buzz from the flowers of many plants. They play a crucial role in our ecosystem as better pollinators compared with other flying insects.