When we think of bees, we will often picture the easily recognizable black body with yellow stripes.
The most common bees we think about are either bumble bees or honey bees, and we may often confuse the two due to their similarities.
But, Bumble bees and honey bees are actually different. One of the many questions we get asked is whether bumble bees make honey like honey bees do.
So, let’s find out, by looking at their similarities and differences in appearance, environment, and behavior.
Differences Between Bumble Bees & Honey Bees
Both bumble bees and honey bees reside within colonies. They have a force of female worker bees, with one single Queen who is allowed to mate with the male drone bees.
One of their differences is that bumble bee colonies will die out towards the end of the summer months, whereas honey bee colonies can work and thrive for years.
This is why bumble bee colonies tend to be smaller than honey bee colonies. That, and the fact that bumble bees(see also: Do Bumble Bees Sting?) are bigger.
The bumble bee is actually much larger, and has a more rounded body than a typical honey bee. They can vary in color, with a dark body and yellow banding, but bumble bees will also live in smaller colonies than a honey bee.
Honey bees tend to be smaller, less round and less hairy.
Bumble bees may live in nests with around 50 to 400 bees, whereas honey bee hives can have around 20,000 to 50,000 bees!
They also vary in the mating process. During the summer months, bumble bee colonies will start to make new queens. The queen will leave the hive to mate with other nests.
Honey bee Queens can mate with as many as 40-50 drone bees, whereas a bumble bee Queen will typically only mate with one drone.
Another difference is that bumblebee Queens will begin their colonies from scratch when they are nesting, whereas honey bee Queens will gain the help of the worker bees.
Do Bumble Bees Make Honey?
The short answer is no, as it is not the honey we consider for eating. Bumble bees do make honey of sorts, but it is not the kind that we buy and find in jars.
Bumble bees do in fact collect and store nectar like honey bees, and place it in a sort of pot to hold the sweet nectar that they have gathered.
This nectar held by bumble bees is stored as food for the new Queens and the young hatchlings. This nectar is not dehydrated over a number of months, and bumble bees do not lower the water content like honey bees do.
In addition, as bumble bees have smaller hives, (see also: Do Bumble Bees Have Hives?)they do not store enough nectar for anyone to gather the honey.
So, they kind of make their own sort of honey, but it is not the honey we eat, and is different.
How Is Bumble Bee Honey Different?
The honey that honey bees produce is more of a nectar that is gathered by the bees, and stored in a wax honeycomb.
This nectar that is collected is stored for winter and has an enzyme added, used to feed the colony. This is the honey we purchase.
In contrast, bumble bees do not have winter food stores, so the nectar that they collect does not go through that transformation process to turn it into the honey that we know and love.
That being said, bumble bees do store their nectar in what we call ‘honey pots’, but it is stored for their consumption.
Honey bees will store the nectar in honeycombs, and will fan it until it becomes thicker and more concentrated in consistency.
When it becomes honey it will be covered with a layer of wax, and is stored for the winter months.
The difference is that honey bees collect the nectar from plants (like bumble bees), and transform the substance with enzymes and additions of their own.
Then, it is stored and left in the honeycomb to mature. This is then collected by beekeepers and sold as ‘honey’.
What Does A Bumble Bee Do?
While a honey bee has pretty much the sole purpose of building the hive, growing the colony, creating honeycomb and making honey, you may be wondering what the purpose of a bumble bee is.
Bumble bees are very important parts of our ecosystem. Bumble bees are incredibly pollinators, and will pollinate many wild flowers, crops and plants.
Many plants will rely upon bumble bees to generate the pollination process. They have an important ecological role, and maintain a healthy environment.
This is why it is important to leave bumble bees alone, as they are at risk of becoming extinct, and are already endangered. Bumble bees are not aggressive, and will only sting you if you threaten them or their hive.
To summarize, honey bees and bumble bees are different. Although they look similar, they vary in appearance, colony size, and mating practices.
While bumble bees do collect nectar like honey bees, they do not turn it into honey that we eat like honey bees do.
Instead, bumble bees will collect and store nectar in small colonies, and do not cover it in wax to undergo the thickening and concentrating process for it to be harvested.
While bumble bees do store their nectar in ‘honey pots’ the nectar does not become transformed or dehydrated for it to become honey.
In addition, bumble bees have much smaller colonies and hives, so whatever they store is not much to harvest, and only enough to provide a food source for the bees.
As honey bee colonies are much larger, they are able to produce a lot of honey in the honeycomb, which can be harvested and used for the honey that we consume from a jar.
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