Queen honeybees have a pretty cushy life. Living inside the hive, worker bees take care of most tasks like collecting pollen and nectar, producing honey, and fixing up the hive. But that’s not the case for queen bumblebees. For most of their life, the fuzzy, fat, black-and-yellow bees in the genus Bombus fly solo and have to fatten up after hibernation, found a colony, and raise a batch of baby workers before they get a day off. Those weeks as a single mother are perilous for bumblebees, which rely on early-blooming flowers to survive the spring. A new study shows that the more diverse the flowers the queen bees can access, the better off the bees are in the long run.
Unlike queen honeybees, Apis mellifera, which can live for years and overwinter in their hives, the bumblebee life cycle is annual. In the fall, after mating with a male drone, new queen bumblebees dig a cavity in the ground to overwinter. When they emerge in the spring, it’s their job to find a new nest site, which can be a cavity in a tree, a hole in the ground, or even a nice tussock of grass. But searching for real estate is hard work, and thebees need to eat flower pollen for protein and sip nectar for sugar as they go about their business.