Sister Stingers – Bumblebee vs. Honeybee

Sister Stingers – Bumblebee vs. Honeybee

“We Are Family!”

Both honeybees and bumblebees are part of the order Hymenoptera and the family Apidae. From there, bumblebees branch off into the genus Bombus, while honeybees are members of the Apis genus. Both of these little buzzers are social creatures that live in nests with hundreds of their brethren, collect and store nectar, and fly about the air in search of flowers.

Appearance

Bumblebees – Out of all of the Hymenoptera order, these guys are typically considered the cutest, as well as friendliest. They are large with rounded, fuzzy bodies decorated with yellow and black stripes. During flight, they seem to move almost drunkenly through the air and will allow their legs to hang down lazily.

Honeybees – These little honey-chefs have smaller striped bodies decorated with little hairs centralized more on their upper abdomens. Their flight patterns are typically very direction-oriented, and their legs are usually tucked up against their bodies, hidden from view.

Habitats

Bumblebees – Bumblebees both live and thrive in the wild. Unlike their sisters the honeybees, they do not create honey, although they do store nectar, which means they have never been targets of human domestication. Just like honeybees, they need areas where they have access to nectar for food.

Honeybees – At this point, most honeybees are considered somewhat “domesticated” as their hives are raised with the assistance and care of beekeepers within apiaries, however, there are still some wild hives flying around. Over the course of an entire year, the queen and her daughters will all occupy their hive, working together to take care of their home and one another.

Nest/Hive Shapes

Bumblebees – Because the term “bumblebee” actually covers so many different subspecies, bumblebee nests can vary quite a bit, although most commonly they are found on ground level. Sometimes, bumblebees will burrow to form nests similar to yellowjackets, while others will find hollowed out logs, piles of branches/foliage, or other low structures to inhabit for shelter. Occasionally, clusters of what looks similar to barnacles made of beeswax can be seen on the ground – they appear far less structured than the nests of their distant cousins the honeybees and are often very lumpy and disorganized.

Honeybees – Honeybees build very complex hives created with a waxy substance known as honeycomb. Made with near mathematical perfection, the honeycomb is sculpted with striking accuracy and a measurable spatial advantage. Honeybees manage to construct these hexagonal compartments with each edge being roughly 0.1 mm thick and are arranged into an exact 120° angle. Not only is this geometry incredibly impressive, but it saves a lot of space.

Populations and Life Spans

Bumblebees – These friendly bees live in populations between 50-400. The queen lives for a year, hibernating underground during the winter months, while the rest of the colony-members live for only a few months.

Honeybees – The colonies of honeybees are far larger than those of bumblebees with roughly 20,000 to 60,000 bees in a hive. Similar to bumblebees, the workers live for a few months, while the queen can actually survive up to 7 years.

Aggression/Sting

Bumblebees – Bumblebees are very docile creatures and, while they have the ability to sting, they very rarely become aggressive and attack. They do possess the ability to sting multiple times however, this only occurs when they feel threatened.

Honeybees – Just like their sister stingers, honeybees only sting as a last resort. They are generally gentle creatures and will only attack when they feel threatened. Their stingers are barbed and while that is not a problem when stinging other insects, skin is far too tough for their stingers to be removed by flying away. Instead, when the bee, takes off, tugging their body against the resistance of the stinger, the stinger will remain in the victim’s skin, ripping out of the bee. Unfortunately for the bee, it’s not only the stinger that goes. The abdomen of the bee is torn open, revealing and leaving behind the venom sack (which is attached to the stinger) along with some muscles, part of its digestive tract, and nervous system. This dismantling of the bee’s abdomen kills them, and is why bees are known for only being able to sting once.

Citations

Bradford, A. (2017) Facts About BumblebeesLive Science. Available at: https://www.livescience.com/57509-bumblebee-facts.html (Accessed: August 2020).

Bumblebees vs. Honeybees: What’s the Difference, and Why Does it Matter? (no date) The Student Conservation Association. Available at: https://www.thesca.org/connect/blog/bumblebees-vs-honeybees-what’s-difference-and-why-does-it-matter (Accessed: October 2020).

The Differences Between Bumblebees and Honeybees (no date) Bumblebee Conservation Trust. Available at: https://www.bumblebeeconservation.org/bee-faqs/honeybees-vs-bumblebees/ (Accessed: October 2020).

Gillespie, C. (2018) What is the Life Span of a Honey Bee? Sciencing. Available at: https://sciencing.com/life-span-honey-bee-6573678.html (Accessed: October 2020).

Is it a Honeybee, a Bumblebee or a Wasp? (2019) Bee Loved. Available at: http://www.beeloved.co.uk/buzzfeed-1/2016/6/21/is-it-a-honeybee-a-bumblebee-or-a-wasp (Accessed: October 2020).

Kearney, H. (2019) Comparing Bumblebees with HoneybeesKeeping Backyard Bees. Available at: https://www.keepingbackyardbees.com/comparing-bumble-bees-with-honey-bees-zbwz1909zsau/ (Accessed: October 2020).

Masters, M. (no date) Difference Between Bumblebees and HoneybeesPets on Mom. Available at: https://animals.mom.com/differences-between-bees-nests-hives-9663.html (Accessed: October 2020).

Why Do Honey Bees Die After They Sting You? (2011) Earth Sky. Available at: https://earthsky.org/earth/why-do-bees-die-after-they-sting-you (Accessed: August 2020).

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