Differences of Honeybees vs Bumblebees

Do you know the differences of honeybees vs. bumblebees? Honey bees and bumble bees may look similar but they are actually quite different. While both insects play important roles in pollination, their nesting habits and physical features help to distinguish between the two types of bee. Learn more about these creatures’ habits and lifecycles to better appreciate their differences.

Physical characteristics: What’s the difference in appearance?

Honey bees and bumble bees have noticeable differences in appearance. Both types of bees both have striped abdomens, however honey bees are typically smaller, often measuring between 12-15mm in length. They also have a more slender body shape compared to bumblebees. Bumblebees can range from 15-25mm in size with a stockier appearance and rounder body shape. Honey bees also have wings that are more constricted at the middle that lie flat when at rest, whereas those of bumblebees have wings that appear almost clear in comparison that stick out from the sides of their body..

Honey bees have a smooth, yellowish-gold colored hair on their thorax and abdomen with brown bands on the abdomen. On the other hand, bumblebees are much more furry looking and can be either solid or banded in different colors such as black, yellow, orange and white.

Both honeybees and bumblebees have three pairs of legs and two antennae. However honeybees have slimmer antennae than those of bumblebees. The coloration also differs between these two species; honey bees tend to be more yellow/orange while bumblebees are usually black and yellow/orange.

Flight Motion and Speed of Honey- and Bumblebees

Flight Data by Bumblebee.org

Bumblebees and honeybees have different styles of flying and using their wings. Both use their flight pattern as a method to communicate. Honeybees use their wings to fly in a figure eight pattern and move on average 2.5 meters per second through, with their wings beating as fast as 250 beats per second.

Bumblebees, on the other hand, fly in a more jerky pattern, creating complex patterns of vortices around the wing which enhances the magnitude of power their wings when they move through the air.  Rather than beating their wings faster, bumble bees can increase the angle of their extended their wings with each beat. This allows them to reach closer to their head and abdomen with each beat. They can beat their wings as slow as 82 beats per second and as high as 265 beats per second, with an average of 200 beats per second. Did you know that bumblebees can fly higher than Mt. Everest?

Feeding habits: What do they eat, and where do they get it from?

Honey bees feed primarily off of the nectar found in flowers, though they also collect pollen. They use their long proboscis for drinking nectar and store it in special sacs located in their abdomen. Bumblebees also feed on nectar, but do not store it, instead consuming it right away as they collect it while they fly from flower to flower. Bumblebees have specially adapted jaws that allow them to bite into the flower allowing them access to the nectar stored inside. They also consume small insects in addition to these two sources of food.

Honeybees are known to be more efficient at collecting nectar than many other bee species, due to their longer tongues which allow them to feed on deeper flowers. Most bumblebee species have shorter tongues and feed mainly on shallow-flowering plants, although some species have found a unique way to also access deep flowers.

Nesting behavior: Where do bees of both species live?

When it comes to Honeybees vs Bumblebees, their nesting habits are quite different. Honey bees live in colonies and build hives inside of tree trunks or man-made structures. Workers gather nectar and pollen which the colony uses to survive over the winter. Bumblebees, on the other hand, typically nest in underground cavities, logs and voids near their food sources, unlike honey bees who construct wax structures for housing their colony year round. Each bumblebee nest is occupied by a single queen who spends her time laying eggs, feeding larvae, and maintaining the temperature of the nest keeping it between 35°C and 37°C.

Honeybees live in hives that are made up of wax comb that is organized into hexagonal cells. Each hive can contain up to 80,000 bees and is typically led by a single queen bee. Bumblebees, on the other hand, make their nests in smaller colonies and build these nests out of plant materials such as leaves and soil. They usually live in underground burrows or abandoned rodent nests. Tree Bumble bees make their nest in bird houses, lofts, trees, sheds and other sheltered locations, as long as they are about 1,50 m above ground.

Colony size: How big is the average bee hive or nest?

Honey bee colonies can range from 10,000 to about 70,000 members when made up of workers, a queen and drones, but bumble bees have much smaller colonies that are usually composed of fewer than 200 bees. On average, a bumblebee colony will contain around 50 to 300 individuals. The smallest honey bee colony may contain only a few thousand bees while the largest might contain even more than 70,000. Bumblebees don’t build hives and they don’t store honey like honeybees do. Instead they construct a nest made of wax where the queen lays her eggs and the workers tend to them until they hatch.

Longevity: Honeybees vs Bumblebees

Honeybee queens and her offspring live all year in the hive. Honey bee queens can live between three to five years, whereas Bumble bee queens only live for one year and overwinter at their nest.

What do Honey bees and Bumble bees produce?


Have you ever wondered what bees produce? Honey bees produce honey which has numerous health benefits, and wax. It is produced when honey bees ingest the nectar of flowers. The nectar is then partially digested and back in the hive the bees regurgitate it into a “honeycomb”. During this process the enzymes in their saliva mix with the nectar to create honey. The bees deposit and seal it inside wax cells within the honeycomb before leaving.

Bumblebees only produce small quantities of honey which they keep in their bodies to last for a few days when the weather is bad. They don’t need to produce larger quantities because they are different from honeybees. Unlike honeybees, bumblebees live in small colonies and don’t require food storage. Bumblebees consume nectar and pollen on the spot instead of storing it away for later use.

Bees Wax

Honeybees also produce wax to build the structure of their honeycomb, which is where they store the honey. The wax keeps the honey safe and secure from environmental elements and predators. Honeybees create the wax by using a process called “scaling” or “flaking”, where small amounts of wax are secreted from glands on their abdomen. The beeswax then hardens and forms into thin hexagonal sheets that the bees use to build the honeycomb structure. It is harder, opaque, and contains spores that keep the stored food from spoiling.

Bumblebees can make wax, but it is of a much lower quality than the wax produced by honeybees. Bumblebee wax is softer and more translucent, making it unsuitable for the creation of honeycombs or the storage of honey. The wax is used mainly for building nests and as a form of insulation by creating pockets that protect the nest from the cold. It can also be used by other species of bees to create cavities and tunnels in which they live.

Swarming: Honeybees vs Bumblebees

Swarming is a natural phenomenon among honeybees. It happens when a queen leaves the primary hive with a large group of worker bees to find a new home. This typically happens when the hive becomes too crowded. They will fly together in a large mass that can range from tens to thousands of individual bees. The main purpose of swarming is to ensure the perpetuation of the species and spread across new areas. It also gives the old hive an opportunity to reproduce, as the departing bees will take resources with them and create another colony elsewhere.

Bumblebees do not swarm unlike their honeybee cousins. They tend to form small colonies that remain in the same nest throughout the year. People often mistakenly believe that bumblebees swarm because a large group of them can often be seen flying together. While it may look like swarming to the untrained eye, it is actually a process called mating flight when young male drones leave their nests to search for a queen bee to mate with. This behavior is more common during the summer months when there are a lot of bumblebees out and active.

Sting:  Honeybees vs Bumblebees

Both honeybees and bumblebees are capable of stinging, however they usually only do so if they feel threatened or disturbed. In both species it is only the worker bees and queens that can sting if they feel threatened, drones have no stinger. Honeybees generally die after they sting as their stinger is barbed and they are unable to retract it. However, some beekeepers report that some honey bees are able to wind out their stinger if it has not penetrated too deeply.

Unlike honeybees, bumblebees have a have a smooth-edged stinger that allows them to sting multiple times. They do not die after they sting as they are able to retract their stinger.

Role in Pollination:  Honeybees vs Bumblebees

Both honey bees and bumble bees are vital to the pollination of many plants and crops. However, when it comes to honeybees vs bumblebees, the latter are much more efficient pollinators than honeybees.

Honey bees play a vital role in plant pollination by transferring pollen from the male parts of flower to female parts. They are able to do this due to their long tongues, which allow them to reach nectar deep inside of flowers. In contrast to Bumble bees, Honey bees have pollen baskets  (corbiculae) on their hind legs. The baskets are located on the hind legs of the bee. After landing on a flower, the bee will rub its body against the plant’s anthers to pick up pollen grains. Then, using their mandibles, they will push the pollen into their pollen baskets where it can stay until they move onto another flower and deposit it.

Bumblebees have an even more efficient method to pollinate plants. They use a technique called “buzz pollination”. This method helps bumblebees shake loose pollen from plants that have thicker petals and require more force for effective pollination. This buzzing motion is done by a single bee, rather than by multiple bees working together like in a bee hive.

Many species of flowers, fruits and vegetables rely on buzz pollination for successful pollination. Examples include blueberries, cranberries, tomatoes, peppers, squash, eggplants, beans and sunflowers. Additionally, some types of trees such as apple and cherry require bumblebees for their pollination. Pollen from these plants is usually too heavy or sticky to be picked up using honeybees’.

Additionally, bumble bees can reach deeper into some flowers where honey bees cannot because of their larger size and stronger flight muscles.


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