Honeybee vs Bumblebee – The Main Differences


honeybee in flight

As you may or may not already know, there are thousands of distinct species of bee in the world and among them are many differences. For instance, did you know that honeybees and bumblebees are not the same? In fact, there are a variety of things that differentiate these two species of bee.

How are Honeybees Different from Bumblebees?

So you now know that honeybees and bumblebees differ in quite a few ways. The most obvious difference is in how they look. Bumblebees are round and fuzzy and are generally larger than their honeybee cousins. You would be forgiven for thinking that a bumblebee does not have a separate head and thorax, but if you look closely enough you can see that, just like the honeybee, it does indeed have two separate parts.

As honeybees are thinner and less hairy than bumblebees, they are often mistaken for wasps. Honeybee wings are more translucent than the wings of the bumblebee and they have a more pointed tip to their abdomen.

It is not just in appearance where bumblebees and honeybees differ though. Although both bee species are classed as social, honeybees live in colonies with thousands to keep each other company, while honeybees live in nests with just a couple of hundred others.

Honeybees may be kept by beekeepers and will be classed as domesticated by some, but bumblebees are never kept in this way. Bumblebees are only found in the wild and will create their own nests in holes or burrows, often in the ground. Honeybees can also make their own nests, but hives are often provided for them by beekeepers hoping to harvest honey once the colony is established.

So another interesting fact is that wild honeybees prefer to make their nests above ground whereas bumblebees will typically nest underground.

While honeybees and bumblebees are both typically docile by nature, they can – and do – sting humans upon feeling threatened. The difference here is that bumblebees can sting multiple times. The honeybee can only sting once, and if it does so, it will die. The effect of a sting from either a bumblebee or a honeybee is the same and is usually only dangerous if the person has an allergy to stings or if a swarm of honeybees sting at once.

Male Bumblebee
Male Bumblebee

Do Bumblebees Make Honey?

We know that honeybees can and do make honey in large enough quantities to not only feed themselves but to share with beekeepers. But can bumblebees make honey too?

Bumblebees have the ability to make honey but not in the large quantities that honeybees do. They make it in the same way as honeybees (chewing up nectar in their mouths), and the honey that is made is fed to the queen and the developing larvae.

Bumblebees do not live in colonies with numbers large enough to make surplus honey. What they make is purely for their own consumption.

Are Bumblebees Beneficial?

Bumblebees not making large quantities of honey does not mean they are not beneficial. In fact, bumblebees are actually better pollinators than honeybees and so are vital to the environment. While honeybees are mainly foraging for nectar, bumblebees spend their time looking for pollen, which means they transfer more pollen to flowers than honeybees do.

Summary

Bumblebees and honeybees look quite different. Honeybees are often mistaken for wasps because they have a thinner body and are far less hairy than the rounded bumblebee. Honeybees live in large colonies with numbers in the tens of thousands while bumblebees tend to live underground in nests containing just a few hundred.

Although bumblebees can make honey, they do not do so in the quantities that honeybees do, purely because they live in very small numbers.


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Photo Credits:

  • Featured Image: Honeybee in flight
  • Male Bumblebee: Sffubs – CC BY-SA 3.0

Anthony

Anthony is a content creator by profession but beekeeping is one of his great passions.

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