A bumblebee loads up on pollen during a visit to a purple prairie clover plant in the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge.

Move over honeybees there is a bigger more efficient pollinator in town. Bumble bees are spotted in our gardens and landscape in larger numbers. In many cases they are replacing the common honeybee.

The honeybee is probably the most familiar and well-studied social insect. However, because of the reduction of honeybee population due to the honeybee mite in native and commercial hives, the bumblebee has been able to increase in number. With an abundance of food and an environment favorable to the bumblebee, larger populations are able to sur-vive.

Bees belong to the order of insects called Hymenoptera, which also includes ants, wasps, and hornets. The most common social bee is the honeybee, but the bumblebee is a close second.

The bumblebee is a large, robust bee that has yellow and black hairs on the abdomen. These bees are social insects that generally build nests underground in the soil and/or under debris like wood or a building.

The bumblebees obtain their food (like the honeybee) almost exclusively from flowers. Although they make honey, they usually store it in such small quantities as to be impractical for commercial collections. They are, however, very beneficial as pollinators of many fruits, vegetable and flower plant species.

The bumblebee underground colonies are small, compared to honeybee hives, and contain only a few hundred bees by late summer. Their nests are composed of wax posts filled with nectar and pollen for feeding the brood housed in clumps of cells. They often nest in loose fibrous habitats such as mouse nests, insulation, or grass.

The bumblebee colonies are annual, with only fertilized queens overwintering. These queens start new nests in the spring or early summer. Eggs lay by the queen usually hatch within three or four days. Larvae grow rapidly and about seven days after hatching are ready to spin their cocoon and change into pupae. It takes about 12 days for them to go from a larva to full-grown bees.

While the first workers are still in their cocoon, the queen lays additional eggs. Young bees from the first batch are generally rather small, however each succeeding batch of worker bees over the summer is gradually a little larger. Worker bees usually live about a month. Males and their new queens are generally produced in late summer and overwinter for next year’s brood.

Bumblebees are not as defensive as honeybees; however, the females are capable of stinging repeatedly. They are similar to other species of social bees and wasps because they normally attack and sting only when their nest is disturbed. Although their sting can be painful, they are not normally dangerous except for stings around the head and neck. Individuals who experience allergic reactions to bee or wasp venom should get medical help immediately.

Control of bees is relatively easy, but should not be done unless they become a nuisance. Properly labeled products containing pyrethrins, resmethrins, or “Wasp Freeze” aerosols can be used as a knockdown measure, if necessary.

To control the hive, the homeowner first must locate the hive. They are usually under debris, under buildings, in high grass or in the ground. Find the entrances and close off as many entrances as possible, leaving only the main entrance open. Just at dusk or at night, apply a properly labeled insecticide, such as Sevin spray or dust, to the entrance and close it. If any of the workers or the queen survives, the procedure might have to be repeated.

It is important to note here that the honey bee is a protected insect and should only be controlled when they pose a treat to human’s health. There are many bee keepers who will come remove the hive if called.

Jim Coe lives in Lawton.

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