Spring and summer are a great time of year to get outside looking for bumblebees.
Queen bumblebees spend the winter asleep in little burrows. In the spring, she emerges and starts to look for food to build up her reserves from a winter of not eating! Once she is ready she starts looking for a nesting site. This could be in some long grass, a hedgerow bank or even an old mouse hole. Once she is happy with her chosen site she starts to collect pollen which she makes into a “Bee Bread” by mixing it with nectar. She lays some eggs in her nest and once the little grubs hatch they feed on the bee bread.
Once the grubs are big enough they will pupate (just like a caterpillar) and soon new worker bees will emerge. The queen now stays in nest laying eggs, while the workers do all the work of collecting the pollen and looking after the young.
In early summer, it is often the workers you see feeding on flowers. Sometimes you will see a queen. These tend to be much bigger.
Look out for the full pollen baskets on the back legs of the bees. The one below is very full!
Later in the summer new males and queens will emerge from the nests. They will mate. The new queens will feed and build up their reserves before they hibernate and start the whole cycle all over again.
Bumblebeekids by the Bumblebee Conservation Trust has some great activity sheets for a range of age groups.
Bee Scene – a great activity for older children developed by Wildaboutplants.org