Mating Bumblebees: A Rare Glimpse

October 5, 2016

Yesterday was so hectic for me.  I’ve been getting up so early for my son to catch the bus each and every morning. Yes, I’m that early bird, catching the worm everyday at 5:30 am.  I worked for a few hours and then ran tons of errands, went food shopping, played taxi driver for the kiddos, made a homemade lasagna, and I still had a  6 pm meeting at my youngest’s school. By late afternoon, I was beat and running on fumes, but then like a gift for this beekeeper, I came across two bumblebees on my front steps. I had to take a closer peek. What were they doing?

I watched in sheer amazement. Were these two bees fighting? No, they were both pretty calm.  Did they care that I was there? No, they could care less and just stayed right where they were. I squatted down and just watched.  No, these two were mating bumblebees. Wow!  I texted two fellow beekeepers and they confirmed what I was seeing. Somehow, all that was weighing me down was lifted.  This was way too cool!

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When it comes to honeybees mating, I know that a virgin queen will go to drone congregating areas and mate with as many males as she can prior to returning to the hive. I also know that male bees die after they mate with a queen. In this instance, these two were attached for a long time.  I watched them for about 20 minutes and had to get on with my day.  I warned the kiddos and my hubby not to step on them and just leave them alone. I especially didn’t want Sara, our Miniature Schnauzer, to eat them! The mating bumblebees stayed together for hours. Eventually, they fell off the steps. With a twig, I gently scooped them up. It was getting late. A couple of minutes later they separated.  I had to go off to my meeting but when I returned home, they both had flown away. I wonder if the male lived?

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This morning I took some time to learn about the mating habits of bumblebees. Over the winter the entire bumblebee colony will die. The old queen will lay a new virgin queen that hatches out in the fall. The virgin queen mates with one male and finds him, because he “baits” an area where he lives with pheromones. After mating, she will return to her nest.  The remaining entire colony will die and she will hibernate. Come spring, she will begin laying eggs and start an entire new colony. Bumblebees only live for less than a year.

I was also so glad that I noticed these two.  Sometimes in the hustle and bustle of life, we fail to see the little things- stop and smell the roses.  I guess for me yesterday, it was stop and watch the mating bumblebees. My time with them was a gift.

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Melissa

Sharing adventures with backyard chickens, beekeeping, gardening, crafting, cooking and more.

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18 thoughts on “Mating Bumblebees: A Rare Glimpse”

  1. My husband has been talking about getting bees. This was very interesting. I will tell him to check out your website. Thank you for sharing.

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  2. I love seeing bubblebees too, anywhere. I think I find their chubby-ness very appealing. Can they be raised in hives, or is it just other kinds of bees that do well in hives? Where do the queens hibernate over the winter? Can people make sure there are places on their property where queen bees can safely hibernate if hives don’t work for bumblebees? I get lots of them in my yard so I’d like to do anything I can to protect them, but I don’t think I can do hives.

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    • Great questions! Bumblebees nest in the ground. So they are probably already happily living in your vicinity. These newly mated queens will hibernate in the ground inside of their original nest where they were born. So they are tucked safe under the leaves and fallen snow during hibernation.

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  3. Hi There…I’m in Auckland, New Zealand. Thought you might like to hear this: I was on my lawn (10 mins’ ago), on a phone call to my cousin inviting him for dinner tonight, it’s summer here. Anyway, I looked down and saw these two bumblebees coupled together (my first though was I’m barefoot and I nearly stood on them ouch!). I wasn’t sure what was going on but deduced they must be (no pun intended) mating. There was a big one and a small one. I took a couple of snaps on my iPhone and then googled ‘how do bumble bees mate’ and came across your site re mating bumble bees. According to your post this is a rare thing to come across…indeed I have never seen it before. Cheers, Stephen

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    • Oh how awesome that you too got to witness this. Thank you for taking the times to share your story with me. I am so happy that you left them “bee”. Thank you Stephen.

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  4. Do bumblebees mate on the wing too? I( saw for a second what seemed to be a massive elongated bumblebee but I think it/they were on a tree until I appeared then it/they flew off)

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  5. Portland, Oregon, July 23, 2021: About 10 minutes ago while sitting in the shade in my backyard, I was “large” mostly black insect in flight slowly bumbling along and it appeared to be carrying something. It landed about 10 feet from me in my grass at which point I could see a small black and yellow bumblebee. The larger had landed upside down. Initially, I was under the impression some huge beetle was trying to devour the bumblebee and because I love bumblebees and expect ALL creatures that visit my yard to behave with kindness (don’t ask me how well that is working!), I walked over to see if I could rescue the poor thing. Imagine my surprise as I arrived on the scene to save the day and quickly realized they were just fine and happily doing what they need to do to ensure a new colony. The queen appeared close to 3 times larger than the chap who was mating her and despite having landed on her back with her head down, she managed to reposition herself and fly into an area of thicker undergrowth nearby with her friend still attached a few brief moments later. Had I realized what was happening and what a unique opportunity it was to see them in flight, I would have taken some photos. Alas, I was more concerned about saving the lad. Maybe next time…

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  6. I finally found the answer to what I saw thanks to your website. I saw two bumblebees mating, one much larger than the other. Initially I didn’t know what I was looking at and thought they might be about to die. Because they were on pavement in a high traffic area I scooped them up and put them somewhere safe. I showed a friend who thought they were dead and mistakenly they were separated. The next morning the little one was gone and the big one was dead. To my surprise that evening the little one came back and was hugging his bigger friend. For the next two nights the little one did not come back but then in the third evening I noticed the little one was dead beside the big buddy. Is this common among bees or did I witness something special? I had no idea bees could be so interesting.

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  7. Hi there. While walking my fur baby (65 lb pitbull) one morning, I saw something dark moving on the sidewalk. Being legally blind, I got in close to take a picture. When I got home and enlarged it, I saw it was two bees apparently mating. How rare is it that I was able to get a picture of these beautiful little creatures?

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Sharing an inspired life from the New England seaside. Chickens, Bees, Gardens, Art and Yummy Goodness.