Say hello to our Humble Bumble! But why the bumblebee?

The humble bumblebee. A magnificent creature that may be relatively small in stature, but is mighty in every other way. Here at Chef & Brewer, we’ve decided to adopt the bumblebee as our new mascot. After reading all about these fascinating insects, we think you’ll appreciate why. So, what does a bumblebee look like, what different types are there and why are they so wonderful?

What is a bumblebee?

Bumblebees are social pollinators that are part of the Apidae bee family. There are more than 250 Bombus species and we have 24 of those in the UK. The Bumblebee Conservation Trust calls the most common ‘The Big 8’.

🐝 Buff-tailed bumblebee – Bombus terrestris
🐝 Common carder bee – Bombus pascuorum
🐝 Early bumblebee – Bombus pratorum
🐝 Garden bumblebee – Bombus hortorum
🐝 Heath bumblebee – Bombus jonellus
🐝 Red-tailed bumblebee – Bombus lapidarius
🐝 Tree bumblebee – Bombus hypnorum
🐝 White-tailed bumblebee – Bombus lucorum

Not to be confused with slimmer honeybees, wasps or hornets, bumblebees are big, round and adorably fuzzy. They make a deep buzzing sound when they fly and come in lots of different colours. As well as the instantly recognisable black and yellow bumblebee, you’ll also find red, orange and white bees, with most having a distinctive tail colour.


Why are British bumblebees so brilliant?

British bumblebees are completely wild and depend on their surroundings to survive. That includes finding enough of the right flowers to feed on, as well as somewhere to nest.

Their larger size and fuzzy fur makes bumblebees perfectly suited for the UK weather. They can still get out and about on colder days that make honeybees more likely to stay tucked up snug as a bug in their hive.

Like all creatures great and small, bumblebees play a vital role in our ecosystem. They pollinate many of the crops that we get our food from, as well as the colourful flowers we cherish in the countryside. Lots of wildflower and animal populations depend on this incredible service bees provide – all free of charge.

A freebee, you might say.


Where do bumblebees live?

Bumblebees generally live in small colonies of around 100, though there may be as few as 50 or as many as 400. They usually build their nests close to the ground, under things like dead leaves, piles of wood or compost piles. They’re also partial to making things nice and homely in abandoned rodent tunnels.

There are bumblebees right across the world, including throughout Europe, North America, South America and parts of Asia. You’ll find them in Africa north of the Sahara, as well as in the Arctic. They’ve been introduced to New Zealand and Tasmania, but not mainland Australia. Yet.

Wherever they are, bumblebees eat pollen and nectar from flowers. Pollen is a great source of protein, while sugary nectar provides them with the energy to keep on buzzing around. Unlike honeybees, they don’t turn nectar into the sweet, delicious honey we know and love.


How long do bumblebees live?

The reason why bumblebees don’t make honey is because their nests only last for a few months. Honeybees, on the other hand, stay in the same hive for several years. Queen bumblebees start new nests in early spring, building up their energy reserves, collecting lots of pollen and rearing batches of eggs.

The first batches produce female worker bees who feed and nurture the colony. It’s only towards the end of summer that the queen produces male offspring, known as drones, as well as new bumblebee queens. Both leave the nest to find mates when they mature. The drones die after mating, while the future queens fatten up in preparation for hibernating through winter.


How do bumblebees fly?

Their size, shape and lightweight wings present bumblebees with a significant challenge when it comes to flying. Aerodynamically, they shouldn’t be able to. However, big bumblebees can still take flight – and it’s all because of the way they flap their wings!

They go back and forth rather than up and down, a bit like a helicopter propeller that can’t rotate fully. And they do that around 200 times a second. This creates a whirlwind, kind of like a tiny hurricane, which allows bumblebees to fly.

5 facts about bumblebees

Bumblebees have six legs and are covered in an oil that makes them waterproof – which is pretty handy for living in the UK
Unlike honeybees, bumblebees don’t die when they sting
Bumblebee nests usually have 50 to 400 bees and only last for a few months from spring to summer
Queen bumblebees shiver to keep themselves and their eggs warm
Bumblebees need their flight muscles to be at least 30ºC in order to fly – it take around five minutes for bees to shiver themselves up to this when the air temperature is 13ºC


Are bumblebees protected in the UK?

Despite losing three bumblebee species in the last 150 years, we don’t have any laws to protect them. The same goes for all of the UK’s bee species, 25% of which are endangered due to things like intensive farming and our changing climate.

Bees are powerful cultural symbols in the UK. They represent community, perseverance and regeneration. The Manchester bee famously symbolises the city’s hardworking culture fostered during the Industrial Revolution. Britain’s bees are special, and even though they’re not protected by law, there’s a lot you can do to help them.

How you can help our bumblebees

All of us in the UK have wild bumblebees as neighbours. And that includes our pubs, where you can spot them going about their business in our countryside beer gardens. Whether you have a large garden yourself, a small yard or just some planters hanging on a window ledge, you can make a real difference by providing bumblebee-friendly flowers in your outdoor space.

The best flowers to put out for bumblebees are rich in pollen and nectar. Bees with shorter tongues need short, open flowers that are easy to reach. Deeper flowers are more suitable for bumblebees with longer tongues. Some of the best flowers for bumblebees include:

Borage  Ivy 
Chives   Lavender
 Dahlias  Meadow cranesbill
 Echinops  Michaelmas daisy
 Foxgloves  Oregano
 Honeysuckle  Primrose
 Hyssop  Red clover
 Ice plant  Red valerian
 Roses  Snapdragon
 Scabious  Yarrow

Having flowers that provide food for bumblebees at different points of the year is a great way to help our little furry friends. So too is leaving a bumblebee nest if you can deal with one near your home, as it’ll only be active for a few months before you can remove it. If you find bumblebees in your home, gently catch them and set them free outside.

We’ve seen that bumblebee populations can recover with the right conditions, including in parts of Scotland. We like to think we’re doing our bit by giving the humble bumble more of the spotlight, and hopefully you can help out too.

So, why did we choose the bumblebee for our new mascot? We hope it’s obvious by now. Just like those of us who love meeting our friends and family at the pub, they’re social little things. Bumblebees are a wonderful symbol of not only our British countryside, but also of community spirit, hard work and our connection to nature.

Plus, they’re ridiculously cute too, aren’t they?


Bumblebee FAQs

Do bumblebees sting?

Yes, bumblebees sting, but it’s usually only as a last resort, to defend themselves. Unlike some bees, bumblebees can sting multiple times. Despite this, they are much less likely to sting than other bees that can’t.

Are bumblebees aggressive?

Bumblebees aren’t generally aggressive towards humans. They only sting if they are provoked, or if they need to defend themselves, their nest or their queen.

Do bees die when they sting?

Bumblebees don’t die when they sting, meaning they can sting multiple times. Unlike honeybees, whose first sting is also their last.


Do bumblebees make honey?

No, bumblebees don’t make honey. They do collect nectar, but unlike honeybees, they don’t turn this into honey. This is because bumblebee nests only last for a few months and don’t need to sustain the colony over winter.