Common eastern bumble bee (Bombus impatiens) is by far the most abundant bumble bee in the northeast. Most males and female can be easily identified from the lemon-yellow coloration and single yellow band on T1. This bee is active throughout the year, but becomes particularly abundant in August, September, and October when most other bumble bee species have already senesced. Increasing, and likely benefits from human-disturbed landscapes.
Active March through November. Colonies begin producing males and gynes (future queens) by late June or July; one new generation of reproductive individuals per year. Often flying into September and October (with males around until first frost).
Very widespread. The most common bumble bee in the northeast.
Size >honey bee
Females: thorax with bright lemon-yellow hair, and black spot in center, T1 completely yellow; T2-T5 black; occasional “red morph” individuals where T1 is yellow, T2-T3 are red/rust, and T4-T5 are black
Gynes: like workers, but 2-3x as large
Males: many with similar pattern to females, but longer antennae, more rounded abdomen, and thick yellow “moustache” on face
- Bombus griseocollis can be similarly-patterned, but has shorter, “buzz-cut” hair on the thorax, and always some brown/pale orange band on T2
- Bombus bimaculatus has a small, sometimes inconspicuous yellow spot on T2 hidden by folded wings, otherwise superficially similar
- Xylocopa virginica are similar sized and most similarly patterned to B. impatiens queens, but carry pollen in brush-like scopae on hind legs, not corbiculae; have darker, mustardy thorax pile, and wide, squat face; and black shining abdomen (vs. matte/luster abdomen of B. impatiens)
Eusocial. Mated gynes (future queens) emerge early in spring and found new colonies in cavities, typically at or below ground-level. Known to nest alongside humans in a variety of cavities, including old rodent burrows or cavities beneath sheds. Typically, B. impatiens does not re-use nest sites among years.
Queens use a variety of spring flowers to establish colonies, including maple trees (Acer spp.), blueberries (Vaccinium spp.), and woodland spring ephemerals. Workers are highly generalized floral visitors, seemingly with particular preference for thistles (Cirsium), St. John’s Wort (Hypericum spp.), clovers (Trifolium spp.), roses (Rosa spp., and most Rosaceae), sunflowers (Helianthus spp.), and goldenrods (Solidago spp.). Also managed as a commercial pollinator of many agricultural crops like pumpkins, watermelon, and tomatoes, and will visit backyard vegetable garden plants.
B. impatiens hosts the socially-parasitic lemon cuckoo-bumble bee (Bombus citrinus).
Page last updated:
February 22, 2023