A couple of days ago I noticed that there were bees on the dandelion flowers (earlier than usual this spring). One bee had a bright orange stripe around its body… this is a tricolored bumble bee, also sometimes called “orange-belted” for obvious reasons. It is fairly common in the northern United States. It is a large bee… males and worker bees can be up to half an inch in length, and the queens are even larger at more than 3/4-inch. Tricolored bumble bees are considered to be superior pollinators because they will collect pollen even in cold or wet weather.
The queen comes out of hibernation in late April or early May and spends hours collecting pollen and looking for a suitable underground nest site. Once a site has been chosen, she secretes wax to make the nest where she lays her eggs, and a “honey pot” for the storage of nectar. The eggs hatch into worm-like larva in three or four days, become pupae, and spend fourteen days developing their adult tissue.
After two or three more days they have their adult coloration, their wings have hardened, and they can fly. These are the worker bees, and their only job is to collect nectar and pollen and store it in the nest.
Meanwhile the queen starts to lay more eggs. Until late summer she will lay only unfertilized eggs that will become males. After that she will lay only eggs that will become new queens. Before the end of the season, these new queens must mate and find their own underground hibernation spots where they will remain dormant until the next spring, when the entire cycle starts again.
It’s a short life for the old workers and the males… they and the old queen will all die by mid-autumn.