Sunday, August 26, 2012

That bumblebee is the bomb!

"Bombus impatiens" that is. This furry little "bombus" or bumble bee was buzzing around a stand of purple coneflowers in the meadow at Shawnee State Park...

A fuzzy yellow and black bumble bee, Bombus impatiens, hovers over a purple coneflower before lighting to sip nectar.
A fuzzy, round bumble bee hovers over its next nectar source, a vibrant purple coneflower. The bumble's loud buzzing was persistent...and one of the wonderful sounds of summer.

I don't know a lot about bumble bees, so that evening I got out my "Kaufman Field Guide to Insects of North America" to see what species this bumble was. From the photo and description, I'm deducing Common Eastern Bumble Bee (Bombus impatiens). Bombus impatiens' field marks include a thorax covered in yellow pile (or fuzz) with a small bald spot on top, and an abdomen with only the first segment covered in yellow pile...

Common Eastern Bumble Bee--only the first segment on the abdomen is yellow, the rest is fuzzy and black
In this photo, it looks like just the first segment of the bee's abdomen is covered in the yellow fuzz, which identifies it as a Common Eastern Bumble Bee (Bombus impatiens). If the second segment was also covered in the yellow fuzz, it would be an American Bumble Bee (Bombus pensylvanicus).  The Common Eastern Bumble Bee (Bombus impatiens) is one of the most common bumble bees in our area and in the eastern United States. 
A pollen basket (or "corbicula") is a smooth surface on the hind leg of a female bumble bee or honey bee. Males do not have pollen baskets. Bumble bees and honey bees use pollen baskets to carry pollen back to the nest. Click here for an earlier post that explains how pollen baskets work. Click here for other ways to tell female and male bumble bees apart. Another difference between a male and female bumble bee is the stinger. Females have them, males don't. Unlike honey bees, who die after stinging because they have a barbed stinger that is left in the victim, bumble bees can sting more than once because their stinger is smooth. Click here for more info on a bumble bee's stinger.

Ocelli (three primitive eyes) on a bumble bee
...let's zoom in a bit to look at the ocelli (three primitive eyes) on the top of his head. These eyes help the bumble bee see ultraviolet light, and are also used for stability while flying by helping the bee detect the horizon. To read more about ocelli, click here. To see the ocelli on a grasshopper (from an older post), click here. 

Hard sheath for a bumble bee's tongue (Bombus impatiens)
Bumble bees have long tongues encased in a hard sheath. The tongue is reddish, and the tip is hairy and feathery. This modification helps the bumble bee lap up nectar. It is not a sucking tube like a butterfly's proboscis. (Source: "The Natural History of Bumblebees, a Sourcebook for Investigations," by Carol A. Kearns and James D. Thomson, pg 30.) For a close-up photo of the feathery tongue, click here.

Bees in the late summer sun 
Drone their song 
Of yellow moons 
Trimming black velvet, 
Droning, droning a sleepysong.
                    --Carl Sandburg

Fuzzy hair on a bumble bee are actually setae
The yellow pile looks as soft as a bunny's fur, but the fuzzy "hairs" are actually finely branched setae. The branching helps pollen stick to the hairs, which function more like our skin in that they contain sensors that let the bee feel wind speed and direction, or detect chemicals. For more on bumblebee hair, click here. For a quick overview of the differences between mammalian hair (keratin) and insect "hair" or setae (chitin), click here

Bumble bees are so big, round and fat it seems improbable they could fly, but they do!  Here this Bombus impatiens hovers over a purple coneflower.
Bumble bees are so big, round and fat it seems improbable they could fly with their delicate wings, but they do!  Here this Bombus impatiens hovers over a purple coneflower. She soon lit on the orange spikes to lap nectar, one of her main food sources. Bumble bees eat pollen and drink nectar. They have no other food source.



A head-on view of a bumble bee (Bombus impatiens) as it aps nectar from a purple coneflower. The three ocelli (primitive eyes) look like rivets put there to hold on a hard mask!
South winds jostle them--
Bumblebees come--
Hover--hesitate--
Drink, and are gone--
--Emily Dickinson

22 comments:

TexWisGirl said...

fabulous macros! i always learn something new from you, too. :)

Roy said...

Nice shots, Kelly! We have lots of Bumbles around these days; I only wish the Honeybees were as populous.

Where the Fur Flies said...

Those are all great shots but that last one is worthy of oohs and aahs... I'd frame it if it was mine.

Sue said...

Loved the info on one of my garden favorites!

Elaine said...

Lovely shots, Kelly! Good information too on the bees. I've had a variety on my flowers this year, but haven't taken the time to research what each was. As long as I know that buzzing isn't from a yellowjacket I am happy.....

Jayne said...

That's interesting about the difference in males and females. OF COURSE the males don't carry pollen or sting... they are at home in the hive on the couch! LOL! Great photos Kelly!

Dan Huber said...

Wonderful and informative post Kelly. Amazing photos of the eyes - wow!

Mary said...

wow..great macro shots of that cute little guy.

Appalachian Lady said...

Kelly-great photos. I will be showing your blog and sketches of the frog/toad tonight for my nature journal presentation to Virginia Master Naturalists. Thanks so much for your great and informative blog.

Dina said...

Amazing close-ups and details!

Kathy A. Johnson said...

Fascinating info and truly amazing photos, Kelly. Bumble bees are completely charming!

Chris said...

Wow Kelly, first your pictures are supber, and then the post you made is really interesting and very nice. I learnt a lot, thanks a lot.

Montanagirl said...

Super Macros Kelly! I agree with TexWis, I always learn something fun and interesting when I visit your blog!

Carol Mattingly said...

Kelly how is every time I read your posts I always always learn something facinating. Gorgeous gorgeous images. Carol

Adrienne in Ohio said...

Amazing macro photos and fantastic info. I love bumblebees!

Angela Sullivan said...

Your photos always make me so much more appreciate the simple things because through your lens they are no longer simple things.

Weedpicker Cheryl said...

Bee still my heart!

great post! Thanks-

Gillian Olson said...

Wonderful pictures, and thank you for all the bumble bee facts. I will have to take a closer look next time I spot one.

Atanasio Fernández García said...

Stunning macro of this bee, Kelly! Congratulations!

Guy said...

Hi Kelly

I am in awe. I am happy to get a bee infocus you have photos of the tongue and ocelli wow. I really enjoyed the information you supplied I was wondering whether to purchase the Kaufman guide and you really put it to good use. And of course I really like the poems you included.

All the best.
Guy

Sublime Birdy said...

Wow! beautiful pictures Kelly, you are really talented, keep up the great blog.

Kelly said...

...thank you, everyone!! This fat little bee was so cooperative! The nectar must have been superb, because it didn't care at all that I was standing there with a camera in its business!

Guy...yes, I'd get the Kaufman guide. I use it all the time. I love all my Kaufman guides. Thanks!