Bumblebee vs Honeybee: Understanding the Differences Between the Two Most Common Bees

Ever wondered about the bumblebee vs. honeybee argument? There are almost 20,000 species of bee that differ in their behaviors, pollination habits, habitat, and physical characteristics. Due to a loss of habitat, pesticides, and mono-crop farming, the numbers of bees across the US are in sharp decline. However, the bumblebee and honeybee remain two of the most common species. So, here we will look at these two types of bee, so you can appreciate the differences and similarities.

Bumblebee Vs Honeybee Appearance:

Honeybee vs BumblebeeThe most simple way to observe the bumblebee vs. honeybee argument is appearance. While these are both bee species, they do look very different.

While the bumblebee is fuzzy and round, the honeybee is both thinner and smaller. In fact, it is very easy to mistake a honeybee for a wasp. The other key difference in appearance is that bumblebees appear to have a one piece body, while honeybees have a clearly distinct head and abdomen. Additionally, honeybees have two sets of wings, with a larger set at the front and smaller wings at the back.

Habitat:

Another answer to the question what’s the difference between a bumblebee and a honey bee is in their habitat.

Honeybees are hyper social, living in hives with tens of thousands of other bees. These can be wild or domesticated colonies. As the name suggests, this bee is a honey producer, and its colonies can survive winters intact, with the queen living for three or four years.

While bumblebees are also social, it is not to the same extent. They live in nests with just a few hundred that are exclusively found in the wild. The nests are usually found in holes in the ground or burrows, but only the queen survives the winter, hibernating during the cold.

Honey Bees vs. Bumble Bee: Feeding and Pollination:

Of the two, the bumblebee is a better pollinator. But, this is because there are more species of the bumblebee, which allows for a variety of tongue lengths and the types of flowers that they can feed from. Additionally, because they have a larger body, they can also carry larger loads.

Bumblebees are good at learning about pollen extraction from different flowers and may also specialize in particular species. This greater flexibility means that they are more adept at cross pollination.

However, honeybees have the advantage in communication. They actually have a dance to alert their fellow workers about good supplies of pollen. Unfortunately, while this can be better for honey production and their colony, it can be a disadvantage for pollination. While bumblebees will patiently work an extended area for full pollination, honeybees race off to mine specific pollen sources.

Number of Bees:

Bumblebees have just one queen who settles when she finds an ideal location for a hive. She builds cells where she can lay her eggs, caring for them until they are old enough to care for others. She can then delegate these duties to focus on laying more eggs. The queen needs to work quickly, as she will be gone by winter, as her daughters will take over as queens.

A queen honey bee has a more entitled life. She has a swarm as her personal guard, who protects and takes care of her and her young. The queen bee’s only responsibility is laying eggs. She doesn’t care for her young, build a comb or perform any other duties, as these tasks are the responsibility of her worker bees.

Bumble BeeAs a result of this life, the queen can make it through the winter, as the bees cluster together for warmth. This is the key to winter survival. While the bumblebee queen finds her own place to sleep away from the cold, honeybees simply reduce their outdoor activities and settle into the nest. They build a pantry, using these food stores to sustain the colony for the entire winter.

Bee Stings:

Many people are wary about bees because of their sting, but this is another key difference in the comparison of bumblebee vs. honeybee. While bumblebees can sting you multiple times, honeybees will only sting once before they die. However, honeybees tend to form swarms.

Both types of bees are safe enough to be visitors in your backyard, so don’t be worried about stings. Bumblebees typically only sting when they are provoked.

Planting wildflowers in your backyard will not only look beautiful but can attract bees and help to compensate for habitat loss. You can also use seed balls in unattended areas to encourage bees. So, you can help endangered bees and learn more about the different species for yourself.

Setting Up a Bee Hive:

If your interest in bees has been ignited, you may like to take this to a new level and set up your own hive in your backyard. Keeping bees offers a great many benefits, including:

  • Locally made honey: If you love honey, you’ll enjoy having locally made honey that can not only soothe coughs and sore throats, but naturally sweeten food and drinks, treat wounds, and relieve seasonal allergies.
  • Wax: You can use the wax the bees make in your hive to make your own candles, lip balm, creams, and cosmetics.
  • Pollination: Bees can also be helpful in your garden. Whether you have fruit trees or like to grow squash, having bees around will help to ensure that your veggie patch is pollinated.
  • Low maintenance hobby: Watching bees in your yard can be a very interesting hobby, but once the hive is set up, you’ll only need to dedicate approximately 30 minutes each week for maintenance, plus time twice a year to collect the honey.
  • Conservation: Keeping a hive will also help to conserve bees, providing them additional habitat to encourage greater numbers.

Of course, there are costs involved in setting up and maintaining a hive. You will also need to be quite fit as the box of frames for honey production can weigh up to 70 pounds. Additionally, usually, it is not possible to harvest any honey in the first year as the bees will need it as they set up the hive and stockpile for winter.

Once you start looking at the bumblebee vs. honeybee comparison, you’re likely to find that bees are fascinating creatures. They are a crucial part of the ecosystem and can make a great addition to your garden.