Nevada Bumble Bees

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by Skip Via
skip@westvalleynaturalists.org

I love bees, so it’s always a treat to encounter a native species that is new to me. That was the case a couple of days ago with the Nevada Bumble Bee, when I first encountered several feeding on some creamy pea vine (vetch family) in Happy Meadows and the next day on my back deck with her head deeply embedded in some petunias in some hanging flower baskets. They’re hard to miss–they’re very large (queens are nearly an inch long), have lots of dense yellow/orange fur on their thorax and abdomen, and their buzz is considerably louder than any other species I have encountered. Males and females are very similar except that the females and queens have black heads, whereas the males have yellow heads. That’s why I think the bee pictured below is a female, possibly a queen given her size.

Nevada Bumble Bee female, possibly queen.

Given their commonality to the region, I’m surprised I have never seen one. At least, I’m not aware that I have ever seen one. It may be the case that I have seen workers, who are smaller (a bit more than 1/2 inch), but never a queen.

Nevada bumble bees are ground nesters. They feed on the nectar of vetches, thistles, bee balms, penstemons, salvia, lupines, and many others, making them important pollinators for our wildflowers. They are year ’round residents of Montana, but they are more common in Western Montana. They are found throughout the western US and as far north as British Columbia, Canada.

One identifying feature of the species is a bare black patch on the upper back. Males often have a bit of red at the tip of the abdomen.

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