In mid to late summer the bumblebee boys are in town! They emerge from their nest at around the same time as the virgin Queens, and then hang about supping nectar from bee bars with plenty on tap. Male bumblebees don’t have pollen baskets and don’t collect pollen, so if you see a bumblebee with heavy shopping bags full of pollen on the back legs, it’s a female.
You might find males overnighting in flowers, or just feeding lazily on the nectar rich flowers in your garden. The males are chucked out the nest and rarely allowed back in, perhaps this ensures that they disperse and don’t mate with their siblings.
And finding a mate is pretty much the only thing that gets these bees animated. They leave little smudges of pheromones like post-it notes around to attract a female of the same species, using their cartoon facial hair like a paintbrush.
I love the fact that male bumblebees often have a yellow moustache. It gives them a comical look but it can also be a useful way to tell a male bee from a worker of the same species.
Male bees don’t sting. That’s because the stinging mechanism is an adaptation of the ovipositor structure in female bees. Male bees don’t have this and subsequently can’t sting.
If you can safely identify a male bee you can very gently pick them up for scrutiny. It’s a very strange sensation holding a buzzing bee. It literally vibrates as you hold it. But …. You do need to know what you are doing. Get it wrong and you will likely be stung, so best improve your ID skills before you try this party trick.
Sometimes male bees will cluster around a nest as the new queens hatch out, this is often seen with Tree bumblebees (Bombus hypnorum), which can become very animated when the Queens emerge. If you’ve ever been the host to a nest of these beautiful white-bottomed bees, you might have seen the nest apparently boiling over in summer. Usually this is a number of very keen male bees flying around the nest entrance waiting for the fresh Queens, who once emerged will have the undying attention of many males vying for her attention.
Once mated the Queens will feed up on nectar before finding a place to safely overwinter, and the males will fade away and die, many without adding their genes to the next generation.