Bumblebees depend almost entirely on flowers for their food and, like us, they benefit from a varied diet.
They use nectar from the flowers as a source of fuel, as it is high in sugar. The pollen provides the protein and nutrients needed for growth and development. It is therefore unsurprising that the best habitats for bumblebees are those that offer plenty of flowers to feed from during the entire active phase of the bees’ lifecycle (from spring until late summer). This will ensure that there is a good supply of pollen at all of the crucial times:
- When the queens are establishing nests.
- When nests are growing.
- When nests are producing new queens and males.
- When queens are fattening up ready for hibernation.
It is also important that the flowers present are useful for bees. Certain plants have flowers that have shapes that bumblebees cannot use. For example, some flowers have petals that form long tunnels which are too long or narrow for the bees to feed from. Other flowers may not be suitable because they produce little or no pollen and nectar, often as a result of selective breeding by horticulturalists for their pleasing appearance. Plants like pansies and double begonias offer little for bumblebees and other pollinators.
It is very easy to find plants for the garden that are good for bumblebees. Visit our Bee kind gardening tool to find out which flowers are best for bees. More information on providing larger areas of land for bees can be found in our ‘Managing land for bees’ section.
What bumblebees look for in a nest site
Nest sites and sizes vary between bumblebee species. For detailed information about bumblebee nests, please visit the Bumblebee nests section.
What bumblebees look for in a hibernation site
Only new bumblebee queens go into hibernation over the winter. Very little is known about the preferences for hibernation sites, and how this differs between species. However, some research suggests that they prefer to hibernate in north-facing banks, where they dig into vegetation and loose soil. In this soil they form a small chamber, in which they spend the winter. It is not uncommon for people to find bumblebees hibernating in their compost heaps or in soil beds in their gardens.
"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