Despite its name, perplexing bumble bee (Bombus perplexus) doesn’t have to be an identification quagmire. In particular, the distinctive dark-gold color of most individuals and black underwings sets them apart from the superficially similar species pair B. vagans/sandersoni. While B. perplexus does turn up in urban areas, you’re probably most likely to encounter this bumble bee in woodland habitats, especially where blackberries (Rubus spp.) and other shrubs are flowering in early summer.
Queens emerge in late March; active throughout the summer, but colonies senesce relatively early (June/July); scarce by September.
Widespread in southern Canada and the northeastern US, but not particularly abundant.
Workers: yellow hair on top of head (vertex); thorax with long, orangey-yellow hair above and extending down sides, but with extensive black hair below wing bases (dark “armpits”); first two segments of abdomen orangey-yellow; third abdominal segment sometimes partly yellow in workers, remaining segments black.
Gynes: like workers, but 2-3x larger
Males: yellow hair on face and top of head, all over thorax, and usually on at least the first three segments of the abdomen (remaining segments with black hair)
- Bombus vagans/sandersoni are similarly patterned, but with brighter, lemon-yellow hair and without extensive dark hair below wing bases.
- Other common bumble bees (e.g. B. bimaculatus, B. impatiens) in our area often appear lighter due to bright yellowish hairs across body.
Eusocial, like other Bombus. Overwintering mated gynes (future queens) found colonies in spring, which produce males and new gynes by June.
Generalized, found in a variety of habitats and visits many different plant species, but generally not in heavily urban areas. Frequent in forests, where workers can be common on understory shrubs in early summer.
We are not aware of natural enemies of B. perplexus.
Page last updated:
February 22, 2023