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20 Types of Bumblebee Species: Facts and Photos

Every bumblebee buzzing around, with its plump, fuzzy body and familiar colors, tells a different story. This article will touch on a portion of the diverse types of bumblebee species worldwide. 

Discover species with white tails, reddish-brown hues, nest-thieving behaviors, or an unexpected preference for red flowers. Read on to learn more about these buzzing pollinators.

Bumblebee Classification

Bumblebees fall under the genus Bombus, the lone surviving classification in the tribe Bombini. The genus is a broad group, home to more than 250 species. 

Some taxonomists have previously broken this down into as many as 38 subgenera. In 2008, experts simplified the subgeneric classification of bumblebees3, narrowing the count to just 15.

These pollinators are related to other types of bees, sharing the family Apidae with honey bees, digger bees, squash bees, orchid bees, and stingless bees. 

Befriending bumble bees, on the other hand, is a surprisingly accessible task - these insects are primarily tolerant of humans. Be patient and appreciate their ecological role at a safe distance.

Following this, we'll learn to distinguish between the varied species of bumblebees. Try to spot some of these bees in your gardens.

Related Read: Bee Facts.

20 Types of Bumble Bee Species

1. Common Eastern Bumblebee (Bombus impatiens)

Common Eastern Bumblebee
Photo by Judy Gallagher on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY 2.0 (Cropped from original).

Common Eastern Bumblebees proliferate across eastern North America, buzzing through regions from Ontario to Florida. This species extends westward into areas like North Dakota and eastern Texas.

Their habitat is wide-ranging, from urban areas and suburbs to sprawling farmlands. They aren't limited to the city outskirts, as grasslands, forests, and marshes harbor these creatures. Common Eastern Bumblebees adapt to regional climates, from cold temperate to subtropical zones.

Distinguishable by short pale yellow hairs on their thoraxes and black hairs on their heads, abdomens, and legs, they exhibit slight variations between genders. Female faces are black, while males have yellow faces. 

Because of their medium-length tongues, they're often mistakenly identified as Eastern Carpenter Bees. To distinguish them apart, look at their densely hairy abdomens, whereas carpenter bees possess shiny abdomens. 

2. Tree Bumblebee (Bombus hypnorum)

Tree Bumblebee
Photo by Martin Cooper on Flickr licensed under CC BY 2.0 (Cropped from original).

The Tree Bumblebee is common throughout much of Europe and northern Asia. These social insects prefer forest habitats, frequently occupying areas stretching from France to Kamchatka in the east. Unlike other species, they stay in tree holes. When trees are not available, they settle in human dwellings.

This type of bumblebee has a rounded head and a short proboscis. Look for their distinct body pattern: an overall ginger thorax, a black-haired abdomen, and, noticeably, a white tail.

Notably, the Tree Bumblebee has unique mating patterns4. Unlike females of other bumblebees who mate only once, this kind has been observed to mate 2-3 times, and occasionally, even up to 6 times.

3. Heath Bumblebee (Bombus jonellus)

 Heath Bumblebee
Photo by Mike Pennington on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 (Cropped from original).

The Heath Bumblebee, a widespread species across Europe and northern Asia, is often spotted in various habitats. Such places include local gardens, meadows, and the sprawling heath and moorland.

Distinctive color patterns set the Heath Bumblebee apart. With a yellow-black-yellow thorax and an abdomen ringed in yellow, it is not quickly confused. Meanwhile, males display an additional bright yellow face.

As for its bumblebee nest, it houses 50 to 120 workers and may be located anywhere from ground level to concealed underground spots.

4. Early Bumblebee (Bombus pratorum)

Early Bumblebee
Photo by Ivar Leidus on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 (Cropped from original).

The Early Bumblebee is a common sight in the United Kingdom. It starts its colony cycle as early as February, ahead of most other bumblebees. Hence their name, Early or Early-nesting Bumblebee.

From Subalpine forests to coastal habitats, it's one of the most widespread bumblebees in the west-Palearctic region. Thriving even in urban parks, it is clearly an adaptable insect.

Notable for their color patterns, queens exhibit a yellow collar, an additional abdominal band, and a red tail. The males, while similar, carry a wider yellow collar and red tail. Their workers, almost identical in appearance, show less yellow coloration. They also have rounded heads and short proboscis.

5. Barbut's Cuckoo Bumblebee (Bombus barbutellus)

Barbut's Cuckoo Bumblebee
Photo by Ivar Leidus on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 (Cropped from original).

Barbut's Cuckoo bumblebees are European natives. They span from Fennoscandia to Spain and the British Isles to Russia. A close look reveals a yellow collar and head top, with visible yellow hairs on the thorax, primarily observed in males. Their tails are whitish, but males have some black hairs.

Like all cuckoo bumblebees, they don’t make their own nests or have a worker caste. Instead, these social parasitic insects take over a bumble bee nest, losing the ability to pollinate. They eliminate the queen and leverage the host workers to nurture their own offspring.

Barbut's Cuckoo Bumblebee’s main hosts are Garden, Large Garden, and Clay Bumblebee.

6. Fernald's Cuckoo Bumblebee (Bombus fernaldae)

Fernald's Cuckoo Bumblebee
Photo by Matt Muir on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 (Cropped from original).

The Fernald's Cuckoo Bumblebee is native to certain North American regions, which span from the Appalachian Mountains in the Eastern US to adjacent Southern Canada. 

It is distinguished by black hair, a few yellow hairs above the antennae base, and medium-length antennae. Noticeably, its hairy hind leg tibia lacks pollen baskets. This type of cuckoo bumblebee’s main hosts are Confusing and Red-belted Bumblebees.

7. Common Carder Bee (Bombus pascuorum)

Common Carder Bee
Photo by gailhampshire on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY 2.0 (Cropped from original).

Common Carder Bee is a key player in our ecosystems. With its fluffy, brown-and-orange body, it's commonly seen in Europe. It thrives in varied environments, from meadows and pastures to urban parks and gardens.

This bumble bee exhibits adaptability by constructing both ground-level and underground nests, utilizing spaces such as old mouse nests or abandoned barns. Its nest can house up to 200 workers. 

8. Brown-banded Carder Bee (Bombus humilis)

Brown-banded Carder Bee
Photo by Поляков Александр on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY 4.0 (Cropped from original).

The Brown-banded Carder Bee is primarily found in southern England, Wales, and most of Europe outside Ireland and Iceland. It thrives in open, flower-abundant grasslands. 

Their distinctive light yellow coloration is occasionally interrupted by a slightly dark band on the abdomen's upper side. However, this band can be absent in some worker bees. Intriguingly, male bees resemble the queens, except for their lack of stings and longer antennae. 

These bees establish their nests at the base of vegetation, typical of a ground surface, or in the less frequented burrows of smaller mammals. 

9. Moss Carder Bee (Bombus muscorum)

Moss Carder Bee
Photo by S. Rae on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY 2.0 (Cropped from original).

The Moss Carder Bee, or Large Carder Bee, lives across Eurasia, from Ireland to Mongolia. It can also be spotted as far north as Russia and extending south to Crete. 

It is distinguished by an oblong face and a long tongue and has striking ginger bristles. These bristles blanket the head, thorax, and abdomen. Notably, the abdomen may display brownish tones.

Nesting on or just below ground level, it cleverly collects moss and dry grass for a protective coat around its nest. This nesting routine gives it its common name.

10. Shrill Carder Bee (Bombus sylvarum)

 Shrill Carder Bee
Photo by Ivar Leidus on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 (Cropped from original).

The Shrill Carder Bee, a species found across Europe, sports a single black band on its thorax. Two additional dark bands adorn its abdomen, which is capped by a pale orange tail.

Nest construction falls to the female bumblebees. Repurposing vacant mouse or vole habitats, she molds a residence on or just beneath the ground. By summertime, a family of approximately 100 worker bees thrives within this nest.

11. Buff-tailed Bumblebee (Bombus terrestris)

Buff-tailed Bumblebee
Photo by Charles J. Sharp on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 (Cropped from original).

The Buff-tailed Bumblebee, often dubbed the Large Earth Bumblebee, thrives predominantly in temperate climates across Europe. 

The bees display differences based on their roles in the hive. The queens exhibit a classic buff-white tail. Meanwhile, worker bees resemble white-tailed bumblebees apart from their darker yellow bands. The worker population also has varying sizes.

Introducing Buff-tailed Bumblebees in several foreign ecosystems for greenhouse pollination is causing some concerns. Their prevalence in non-native regions, such as Japan, has led to the bumblebee being classified as an invasive alien species.

12. White-tailed Bumblebee (Bombus lucorum)

White-tailed Bumblebee
Photo by Theodyssey505 on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 (Cropped from original).

The White-tailed Bumblebee, widely distributed throughout the Palearctic, Oriental, Arctic, and western Nearctic areas, thrives in varied habitats, from coastal regions and towns to farmlands and upland areas. It also flourishes in grasslands, heathlands, gardens, and woodland edges. 

A key identifier is the color pattern. This type of bumblebee flaunts a dominant black shade with a pale yellow collar, a similar yellow band on the second abdominal segment, and a distinguishable white tail. The male stands out with its yellow nose and profuse yellow hairs.

This species' nests, primarily found underground, are large and accommodate up to 400 workers. They repurpose deserted nests of old mice or voles.

13. Red-tailed Bumblebee (Bombus lapidarius)

Red-tailed Bumblebee
Photo by Charles J. Sharp on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 (Cropped from original).

The Red-tailed Bumblebee is a common sight across Europe. It thrives best in temperate, open terrains. Nesting seeks variability, yet dense forests are usually less preferred. 

The species is identifiable with a black body and red abdomen markings. Female bumble bees are similar, though queens are notably larger than workers. The males showcase additional yellow bands on the abdomen and face markings. The species' medium-sized proboscis lends to its strength as a pollinator. 

Unlike certain species, their colonies aren't extensive or complex, with numbers ranging between one to two hundred worker bees.

14. Garden Bumblebee (Bombus hortorum)

Garden Bumblebee
Photo by Charles J. Sharp on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 (Cropped from original).

The Garden Bumblebee is a commonly sighted inhabitant across North Europe. A creature of significant ecological importance, it's the only surviving species among long-tongued bumblebees in many European regions1.

Distinctive yellow bands mark the collar, end of the thorax, and first segment of its abdomen. A white tail tip and an oblong face further identify this bumblebee. 

15. Moscardón (Bombus dahlbomii)

Moscardón
Photo by Pato Novoa on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY 2.0 (Cropped from original).

Moscardóns are native pollinators of the temperate forests of southern South America. This species is the largest bumblebee in the world, measuring up to 1.6 inches long.

It has a predominantly red-orange color scheme. The vibrant red-orange thorax contrasts with its lighter abdomen, which has minimal discoloration towards its rounded end. Its black head, wings, and legs also contrast with the fiery body. Moreover, it has long bristles in its thorax and abdomen, giving it a fuzzy appearance.

Most bees bypass red flowers because their photoreceptors are tuned to shorter waves. However, this type of bumblebee deviates by visiting red flowers common in their South American habitats2. This behavior is attributed to its specific L-receptor system, which helps it distinguish the color.

However, population decline due to invasive European bumblebees introduced for pollination6 has led to the Moscardón species having the IUCN Red List endangered status. Over the last decade, there's been a 54% reduction in their numbers.

16. Southern Plains bumblebee (Bombus fraternus)

Southern Plains bumblebee
Photo by ash2016 on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY 4.0 (Cropped from original).

The Southern Plains bumblebee populates the Eastern Temperate Forest region, stretching from Central Florida and New Jersey to the sweeping landscapes of America’s Great Plains. 

Sporting distinctive yellow bands, its mostly black body is unusual amongst bumblebees since the abdomen hairs appear flat rather than fluffy.

Similar in color, queen and worker bees wear a coat of short yellow and black hair, with standout flattened black hairs on their third tergal segment. Black hairs also mark the face and sides of the thorax.

The bee’s relative abundance and extent of occurrence (EOO) have significantly dwindled over the past decade. The declining trend is so sharp that extinction could become a reality in 80 to 90 years. Habitat modification due to insecticide use and grassland conversion is the likely catalyst. Currently, the Southern Plains bumblebee is nominated for the Endangered Red List category7.

17. Black and Gold bumblebee (Bombus auricomus)

Black and Gold bumblebee
Photo by Peter Chen 2.0 on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY 4.0 (Cropped from original).

The Black and Gold bumblebee is indigenous to eastern North America- spanning Ontario, Canada, the eastern United States, and regions as far west as the Great Plains.

These bees showcase a long face with yellow strands on their heads. Yellow banding is also evident on their thoraxes. The bumblebee's abdomen often displays yellow tones, notably on the sides, while the last segments are black.

Found in grassland areas, these bumblebees construct nests above ground and other open habitats.

18. Rusty Patched Bumble Bee (Bombus affinis)

Rusty Patched Bumble Bee
Photo by USFWS Midwest Region on Flickr (Public Domain).

Rusty Patched Bumble Bee, once widespread across a broad arc of the United States and southern Canada, today grapples with a shrinking habitat. Recently, records show occurrences in areas mainly from the Midwest and southern Ontario.

A black spot extends into a v-shaped band on their predominantly yellow thoraxes. This is found between the wings, resembling a thumb tack. Meanwhile, their predominantly yellow first abdomen has a rusty patch.

Sadly, challenges have pushed Rusty Patched Bumble Bees toward critically endangered status9. Various threats loom over them, including commercial bee pathogens, agricultural habitat destruction, pesticides, and climate change.

19. Suckley Cuckoo Bumble Bees (Bombus suckleyi)

 Suckley Cuckoo Bumble Bees
Photo from Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain).

The Suckley Cuckoo Bumble Bee has a wide presence in western North America, with pockets found in the northeast. From the expansive Mountain West, which stretches from California and Colorado to Alaska, they are also present in the Canadian Great Plains and isolated Newfoundland.

Like other cuckoo bumblebees, they've lost the capacity to gather pollen and rear their offspring. These species don't establish their nests but take over the colonies of Western and Yellow-banded bumblebees.

Female bumble bees are distinguishable by a coat of short hair, colored black, yellow, or white, covering their bodies. They also show variable coloring, with black faces and predominantly yellow thoraces. 

Suckley Cuckoo Bumble Bees are critically endangered due to various threats like habitat loss8, pesticide poisoning, pathogens from managed pollinators, rivalry with foreign bees, and climate change. Since they are parasitic bees, the decline of their hosts also led to their demise. 

20. Variable Cuckoo Bumble Bee (Bombus variabilis)

Variable Cuckoo Bumble Bee
Photo by USGS Bee Inventory and Monitoring Lab on Flickr (Public Domain).

The Variable Cuckoo Bumblebee is found in North America within the Eastern Temperate Forest and Great Plains region. It also appears in the southeastern coastal plain, southern Texas, southern Arizona, Central America, Mexico, and Guatemala.

This species lacks pollen baskets and features a dark face with yellow hair. Dark brown wings flap alongside its thorax, and it has varied black spots. Female bees have black abdomens, while males display diverse hair patterns.

Tragically, Variable Cuckoo Bumblebees have been disappearing over the years and are now critically endangered5. This rare bee hasn't even been spotted in almost two decades.

1

Goulson, D., Kaden, J., Lepais, O., Lye, G. C., & Darvill, B. (2011). Population structure, dispersal and colonization history of the garden bumblebee Bombus hortorum in the Western Isles of Scotland. Conservation Genetics, 12(4), 867–879.

2

Martínez‐Harms, J., Palacios, A., Márquez, N., Estay, P., Arroyo, M. T. K., & Mpodozis, J. (2010b). Can red flowers be conspicuous to bees?Bombus dahlbomiiand South American temperate forest flowers as a case in point. The Journal of Experimental Biology, 213(4), 564–571.

3

Williams, P. H., Cameron, S. A., Hines, H. M., Cederberg, B., & Rasmont, P. (2008). A simplified subgeneric classification of the bumblebees (genusBombus). Apidologie, 39(1), 46–74.

4

Brown, M. J. F., Baer, B., Schmid‐Hempel, R., & Schmid‐Hempel, P. (2002). Dynamics of multiple-mating in the bumble bee Bombus hypnorum. Insectes Sociaux, 49(4), 315–319.

5

Hatfield, R., Jepsen, S., Thorp, R., Richardson, L., Colla, S. & Foltz Jordan, S. (2016). Bombus variabilis. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T21215168A21215249. 

6

Morales, C., Montalva, J., Arbetman, M., Aizen, M.A., Smith-Ramírez, C., Vieli, L. & Hatfield, R. (2016). Bombus dahlbomii. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T21215142A100240441. 

7

Hatfield, R., Jepsen, S., Thorp, R., Richardson, L. & Colla, S. (2014). Bombus fraternus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2014: e.T44937623A69001851. 

8

Hatfield, R., Jepsen, S., Thorp, R., Richardson, L. & Colla, S. (2015). Bombus suckleyi. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2015: e.T44937699A46440241. 

9

Hatfield, R., Jepsen, S., Thorp, R., Richardson, L., Colla, S., Foltz Jordan, S. & Evans, E. (2015). Bombus affinis. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2015: e.T44937399A46440196. 

By Isabela Sedano, BEng.

Isabela is a determined millennial passionate about continuously seeking out ways to make an impact. With a bachelor of science degree in civil engineering with honors, Isabela’s research expertise and interest in artistic works, coupled with a creative mindset, offers readers a fresh take on different environmental, social, and personal development topics.

Photo by Adonyi Gábor on Unsplash.
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