The differences between bumblebees and honeybees

There is often confusion about the differences between bumblebees and honeybees and even some of our top media channels will publish pictures of bumblebees when they are discussing/ writing about honeybees. On this page we hope to clarify things a little.

Bumblebee

Honeybee

  • Fat and furry appearance.
  • Smaller and slim appearance, like a wasp.
  • 24 different species of bumblebee in the UK.
  • Only one species of honeybee in Europe.
  • Different species have different lengths of tongue. This means they feed from different shaped flowers.
  • All honeybees have short tongues so they prefer open flowers.
 
  • Bumblebees live in nests with 50-400 bees.
  • Honeybees live in hives of up to 50,000 – 60,000 bees.
  • Only the queen hibernates, in a hole in the ground.
  • The queen and many of her daughters live in the hive all year
  • The queen lives for one year, but the other bumblebees only live for a few months.
  • The queen can live for three - four years.
  • They live in the wild, e.g. in gardens and the countryside.
  • Most honeybees are looked after by beekeepers, but there are some wild colonies.
  • Bumblebees only make small amounts of a honey-like substance to eat themselves.
  • Honeybees make lots of honey, which beekeepers can harvest to eat or sell.
  • Bumblebee populations are declining due to a shortage of flowers to feed from and places to nest in the countryside.
  • Honeybees are mainly declining due to diseases and mites, such as the Varroa mite.
  • They can sting more than once but only sting if aggravated.
  • Honeybees die after they have stung as their stinger is barbed and sticks in the skin.
  • Don't dance but may communicate by passing pollen between worker bees.
  • Use a 'waggle dance' to communicate - passing on information about flower locations.
"We are facing a fundamental problem with the decline of bees and other pollinators. They have an absolutely crucial role in pollinating many of our important crops - without them we will face higher food costs and potential shortages."

Professor Douglas Kell
BBSRC Chief Executive

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