Bumblebee Queen vs Honey Bee Queen

Bumblebee Queen at her nest site (left) – Honey bee queen next to a worker (right)

Bumblebee queen vs Honey bee queen – Are they the same? The world knows honeybees and bumblebees as the most widely known bee species. It is often assumed that these two species share a similar way of life or that what applies to honey bees is also true for bumblebees. However, their differences are fascinating.

Bumblebees are more robust and can tolerate colder weather conditions compared to honeybees, which often rely on humans to survive through winter.

Both bees are essential for maintaining a healthy ecosystem, and understanding their differences can help us appreciate the uniqueness of each species and take appropriate measures to conserve them.

Appearance and Anatomy of Bumblebee Queen vs Honey Bee Queen

Bumblebees are typically larger than Honeybees, with thicker fur and smaller antennae.


Honeybee queens like bumblebee queens are bigger than drones and workers, however a honeybee queen is smaller than the bumblebee queen measuring on average 20-25 mm (0.79-0.98 in.) compared to 20-33 mm (0.79-1.3 in.).


Bumblebees, known for their round and furry appearance, have a fluffy, huggable look with faces that can be either round or longish depending on the species. In contrast, honey bees appear less hairy and possess a slimmer figure with a distinctive head-to-body ratio. Bumble bee queens also tend to have a rounder rear end than honey bee queens that have a more pointed end.


Photo by v2osk on Unsplash

Research studies have shown that bumblebees’ wings are typically more colorful than honeybees’, with significantly more yellow pigment. The presence of yellow pigment in bumblebee wings has been associated with reduced UVB radiation, which is beneficial to the bees’ health. Additionally, studies have found that different honeybee castes have different wing size and shape characteristics, with queens having pointier and drones having longer, curved wings compared to workers.

Bumble bees tend to have larger wings and a higher aspect ratio than honey bees. Bumblebee wings also typically have more flexible joints. This gives them greater maneuverability, allowing them to make turns at higher speeds and execute intricate flight patterns than honeybees. Furthermore, the structure of their wing veins is different: bumblebees have three longitudinal veins on their forewings, while honeybees have four.

Although bumble bees are much larger and heavier than honeybees, they can fly faster. Whereas honeybees can fly between 12-20 mph, bumble bees can reach speeds of 7-30 mph. Their wings are structurally different, which explains their ability to maneuver in different ways. Honey bees flap both up and down while bumblebees move their wings in a sideways motion as well as up and down. Moreover, the wing beats per second of a honeybee queen range between 150-220 Hz whereas the beat of a bumblebee’s wing can reach speeds of up to 250 Hz.

Proboscis (Tongue)


Compared to bumble bees queens, honey bee queens have a shorter tongue length of about 6.6 mm on average, which is around 2 mm less than the tongue length of bumble bees, which depending on the species can range from 5.27 to 8.9 mm.


Bumblebees and honeybees have very similar legs, both possessing three pairs of them. However, the primary difference between the two is in their hind legs. Honeybees have long spines on their back legs which are used for grooming themselves and their larvae, while bumblebees have adapted specialized claws that aid in collecting pollen from flowers.

The bumble bee queen also has wax glands on their hind legs which secretes a wax used for building comb cells inside the hive. Honey bee queens do not produce wax. Both species of bee use their front pair of legs for walking and their middle pair for feeding and egg-laying.


While both, female casts of bumblebees and honeybees have stingers, they are quite different. A worker honeybee’s stinger is barbed. Usually they can only sting once, unless the sting is not deep and the bee has time to ´unthread´ itself. Honey bee queens like bumble bee queens have smooth stingers that can be used multiple times.

Honey Production

Honeybee queens do not produce honey, it is a task that is carried out exclusively by workers. Bees produce honey by collecting nectar and pollen from flowers and carrying it back to the hive. The nectar is mixed with enzymes in their saliva and stored in honeycomb cells. The bees fan the mixture with their wings, evaporating some of its water content until it reaches the right consistency. Finally, they seal off each cell with wax caps so that no more moisture can escape.

Bumblebee queens can produce honey. Although not in the same way that honey bee workers do. Instead, they collect nectar from flowers and store it as a sugary solution in their crop. They collect nectar with their long tongues and store it in wax cups in their nests to consume this sugary solution as food when needed. The honey is also not dehydrated like honeybees do.

In contrast to honeybees, bumblebees do not generate an excessive amount of honey or store larger amounts. This is because bumblebee colonies are smaller in size and do not survive through winter, therefore they do not need to store as much nectar.

Reproductive System –  Bumblebee Queen vs Honey Bee Queen

The reproductive system of the honeybee queen differs from that of the bumblebee queen in a few key ways. The most notable difference is that the honeybee queen has three primary organs (ovaries, oviducts and spermatheca), while the bumblebee queen only has two (ovaries and spermatheca).

Additionally, the honeybee queen lays her eggs directly from her ovaries into chambers within the hive, while the bumblebee queen must transport them to these chambers via her oviducts. Lastly, both queens use stored sperm from mating events with drones to fertilize subsequent eggs; however, honeybees can store sperm for up to 7 years! before using it whereas bumblebees can store sperm up to a year.


Honey bee queens mate only once in their lifespan with numerous drones. The mating process occurs usually within a week of their emergence, in free flight at drone congregation areas. Initially, the queens perform short flights for orientation before engaging in longer nuptial flights.

During a single flight, the queen can mate with multiple drones, and often perform several nuptial flights consecutively on the same day or multiple days. Records indicate that the number of flights can range from one to six on any given day. On average, the queen mates with around 12-14 drones, with the range falling anywhere between 6 to 26.

Bumblebee queens usually mate with one male while resting on the ground or on vegetation. Some species mate with a number of drones. The matings vary from 10 up to 80 minutes. This is because the drone seals his sperm inside the queen with a mating plug. It takes time to harden to completely or partially block the entry of sperm from other males for up to three days. This ensures that his genes are passed on to the next generation.

Temperature Control

Bumblebee queens are able to regulate their body temperature to remain active in conditions that would cause honeybees to remain in their hives. Even with weak sunshine, bumblebees are capable of absorbing and utilizing heat efficiently. Their long setae, or bristles, create a thick pile that acts as insulation to keep them warm in colder climates.

Interestingly, species found in colder regions have longer, thicker hair (setae). This provides them with thicker insulation than those found in tropical areas. Before taking flight, their flight muscles, which make up most of the thorax, need to reach a temperature of at least 30°C (86°F). To achieve this temperature, bumblebees are capable of shivering their muscles. At an air temperature of 13°C (55°F), it takes approximately five minutes for their flight muscles to reach the required temperature, allowing them to take flight.

When the hive is in danger of under-cooling, honey bee workers form a tight cluster around their queen. They adopt various tactics such as shivering and flapping of wings to generate warmth and maintain the hive’s temperature at around 96 degrees F (35C). The colder it gets, the denser the cluster becomes. When the temperature gets too hot, workers cool down the hive by fanning their wings and spewing water. It is rarely seen for honey bee queens to participate.

Life Expectancy – Bumblebee Queen vs Honey Bee Queen

The lifespan of a bumblebee queen is about one year. It starts with a new fertilized queen hibernating over winter before she emerges in the spring to find a nest site and establish a new colony. In autumn, when the new drones and queens emerge, the bumblebee queen will perish with the rest of her colony and the cycle starts again.

In contrast, the honeybee queen and her colony reside inside the hive throughout the year, with the queen often surviving for three years or longer.

While other members of the bumblebee community have relatively short lifespans lasting just a few months, the honeybee colony boasts a more long-lasting and cohesive structure. Additionally, bumblebee queens create new colonies every year, while honeybees tend to remain in the same colony all their lives.

Bumblebee Queen vs Honey Bee Queen – Social Behavior

Behaviorally, bumblebee queens are more solitary than honey bee queens; they do not form the same type of strict social hierarchy. Honeybees have a more complex social structure than bumblebees in order to ensure the survival of their colonies over multiple generations. Honey bee queens rely on the queen-worker caste system, where workers construct and maintain their hives, forage for food, and care for the young while queens focus on reproduction.

Bumblebee queens take care of their own larvae (until the first workers emerge) and do not share food among each other like honeybees do. The bumble bee queens are a lot more self-sufficient than their honey bee counterparts. They have to fend for themselves, fight over suitable nesting sites, rare their first brood, and go foraging.

Queen honeybees do not work in the hive as workers do. Instead, they are solely responsible for mating and producing new bees, much like drones. Although virgin queens can feed themselves, it is the worker bees that tend to the queen´s needs from feeding and cleaning her to disposing her waste.

Communication of Bumblebee Queen vs Honey Bee Queen

Honeybee workers use the “waggle dance” to communicate information. This is generally related to communicate food sources or potential nesting sites to other colony members. However, honey bee queens use the release of pheromones to communicate.

Bumblebee queens possess a unique mode of communication and learning through social behavior. Although there is no concrete evidence confirming whether or not bumblebees can hear or not, they respond to sound vibrations produced by materials, including wood. Research showed that bumble bees also communicate via their food storage.

They also use sound signals produced by their wings as well as antennae touch communication to exchange information with one another. Bumblebee queens also secrete a special pheromone called “queen substance” to signal good feeding spots or potential nesting areas.

Role within the Colony

The hive of honeybees is not controlled by the queen but by the workers who hold most of the power. They are responsible for constructing the nest, providing food to the colony, and defending it against threats. Interestingly, the task that holds the utmost importance and often goes unnoticed is the selection of a queen. The workers are the ones who choose the queen to lead the colony. This decision is vital for the survival and prosperity of the hive. The queen is responsible for laying thousands of eggs and ensuring the growth of the colony.
In contrast, a bumblebee queen is responsible for maintaining order and stability within the nest. She assigns tasks, directs the movement of workers, while also resolving any conflicts between them. The queen does this by communicating through vibrations, visual signals and the release of hormones. She also has a heightened sense of awareness which allows her to detect predators or other threats to the colony. This alerts the workers to take necessary measures.


Foraging bees require a substantial amount of energy to power their flight. To fuel themselves, they carry nectar in their stomachs. On average, the amount of nectar carried is roughly 10% of the volume collected during one foraging trip. Honey bees can carry up to half their body weight.
Whereas the Honey bee queen does not go out to forage, bumblebee queens do until their first brood of workers emerge that will then take over foraging and other duties.
Bumblebees can carry an astonishing 80%  of their body weight although on average they carry 53%! These tiny creatures possess an impressive metabolic rate, which is 75% higher than that of a hummingbird – often considered to have the highest metabolic rate amongst animals.

Aggression – Bumblebee Queen vs Honey Bee Queen

Honeybee queens and bumble bee queens exhibit protective behavior towards their nest and colony. Although not typically aggressive, both species will resort to stinging in order to defend themselves or their hive. In terms of stinging behavior, honeybees are known to sting in larger numbers compared to bumblebees.

Generally speaking, bumblebee queens tend to be more aggressive when it comes to defending their colonies than honeybee queens. Bumblebees are solitary and must fend for themselves. Therefore they are likely to be more protective of their resources such as food sources and nesting sites. Honeybee queens typically have a larger number of workers and rely heavily on them to manage the hive. Because of this, honeybee queens are generally less inclined to defend their colony aggressively than bumblebee queens.

Development – Bumblebee Queen vs Honey Bee Queen

Honey bee workers actively choose between 10 to 20 just-hatched female larvae from a larger wax cell and provide them with an exclusive diet of royal jelly. This special food acts as a switch, triggering the reproductive system of the chosen larvae, ultimately transforming them into queens.
In contrast to honeybees, the making of bumble bee queens is not triggered by nutrition. All casts receive the same diet.  Bumblebees feed their brood by opening a wax-covered larval cell and regurgitate food into it by contracting their abdomens. The nutrient-rich mixture consists of nectar, pollen, and other vitamins and minerals. The making of new bumblebee queens in stimulated by environmental factors and pheromones. Towards the end of the summer, the queen starts to produce drones and new queens. 

Pollination Method

Whereas Honey bee queens typically only leave the nest to mate, bumble bee queens have to forage and thus pollinate to gather food for their first brood.

The pollination methods are different to those of honey bees. Bumble bees use a technique called ‘buzz pollination.’ This is done by vibrating their wing muscles to release pollen from the anthers. Plants pollinated by this method include tomato, eggplant, kiwi, and blueberry plants.

Honey bee workers, on the other hand, use a method known as ‘nectar foraging’ whereby they feed on nectar from flowers and then spread the pollen around as they move from flower to flower.

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