Bumble bees

Two spotted bumble bee

Bumble bees all belong to the genus Bombus in the family Apidae, the same family as honey bees, digger bees, squash bees, orchid bees, and stingless bees. They have special adaptations for colder weather including their long, thick hair, and are more commonly found in colder climates. Minnesota is home to 23 of the 45 species known from North America. Bumble bees have an annual colony life cycle, starting with the emergence of queens in the spring, colony founding, production of workers, growth of the colony, production of males and queens, mating, and ending with hibernation of newly mated queens.

Bombus auricomus on Monarda fistulosa

Bumble bees are better studied than many other native bees, so we know more about their conservation status. Unfortunately, in North America 1 out of 3 species is in decline. The causes of these declines are thought to include habitat loss, pesticides, pathogens, and climate change. Minnesota bumble bee species thought to be in decline include Bombus affinis, Bombus bohemicusBombus fervidus, Bombus fraternus, Bombus pensylvanicus, Bombus terricola,  and Bombus variabilis.

Rusty patched bumble bee

On March 21, 2017, the rusty patched bumble bee, Bombus affinis, became the first bee in the continental U.S. to be given protection by the US Fish and Wildlife Service as an endangered species. Visit the USFWS to get the latest updates on where rusty patched bumble bees have been found and what we can do to help protect them. Minnesota is one of the few places on the planet where we can still find rusty patched bumble bees. We all can help them by planting flowers they prefer, creating nesting habitat by leaving corners of your yard untended and creating woodpiles, and keeping flowers and potential nesting sites free of pesticides. Help scientists and conservationists track populations be joining citizen science efforts to track bumble bees.

Do you think you have seen a rusty-patched bumble bee? Check out our rusty-patched bumble bee identification guide to learn how to tell the rusty-patched bumble bee from other bumble bee species.

Guide to MN Bumble Bees 

Species level bumble bee identification can be challenging. If you are able to take photos, you can submit them to http://www.bumblebeewatch.org where experts with verify your identifications. If you are ready for a challenge, you can print out this free identification for Minnesota bumble bees.

a field identification guide for MN bumble bees

identification for bumble bees of Minnesota


Befriending Bumble Bees: A practical guide to raising local bumble bees

ALA Godort 2008 Notable Government Document Award Winner

Evans, E.; Burns, I.; Spivak, M.


In "Befriending Bumble Bees", you will learn how to raise your own colonies of bumble bees. This step by step guide provides you with all the information you will need to find, capture, house, and feed the next generation of bumble bees. Bumble bees are formidable pollinators, pollinating crops such as tomatoes, cranberries, blueberries, and squash, in addition to native wildflowers. Enjoy the benefits these bees can provide to your gardens and crops while helping to support native ecosystems by encouraging populations of these amazing bees. 76 pp. Full color. For beekeepers, gardeners, nature lovers, and anyone interested in pollinators.

Price: $ 19.99 Purchase
orders of 10 or more are $11.99/book