So, How Long Do Bumble Bees Live?

Whenever the weather warms up and bees and other stinging insects start taking to wing, it’s only natural to wonder how long they’re going to be around.

a bumble bee
a bumble bee

If they are flying all over your backyard, sometimes it can feel like they’re going to be there forever! But most insects don’t have long life spans. Let’s look at bumblebees for instance…

These pudgy bees are large and intimidating, and their loud buzzing will definitely get your attention when they give you a fly-by. Maybe you can just wait them out instead of having to get rid of them! How long will bumble bees live anyway?

Bumblebees will live anywhere from 2 to 6 weeks depending on species, sex, and other factors. Bumblebee queens live much longer than most other bees, usually around a year.

It turns out that bumblebees don’t really have a long lifespan, even compared to other insects. On average, a bumblebee will live about 30 days and no longer.

However, that doesn’t mean you can put a pin in your calendar and just wait them out during the spring and summer for reasons I will explain. Keep reading and I’ll tell you more…

Do All Bumble Bees Live for the Same Amount of Time?

No. Not all bumblebees have the same arbitrary lifespan. There are many variables, even among the same species.

For instance, the weather and workload will help to influence the lifespan of a bumblebee, as well as the species itself; some are a lot more long-lived than others!

Understanding these factors will give you a better idea of when you can expect bumblebee activity to die down if you aren’t going to intervene.

Some Bumble Bee Species Die a Lot Sooner than Others

The first thing you should know is that bumblebees aren’t just a species. Bumblebees occupy an entire genus, Bombus, that contains over 250 separate species worldwide.

Many of them are quite similar, but they exhibit different behaviors and, of course, have differing lifespans sometimes.

For instance, the workers of one of the most common North American bumblebee species, Bombus bifarius, has the expected average lifespan of about 30 days, though it can vary anywhere from 2 to 6 weeks as detailed above based on other factors we’ll get into.

However, some species have workers that have notably short lives, like Bombus terricola, which only live about 3 weeks at most, and many die before that.

Bumblebee Workers Have Variable Lifespans

It should be noted that the workers of any given species of bumblebee can have variable lifespans depending on their workload and other factors.

Bees that are in extremely food-rich areas with ideal weather, long days and few threats might be able to make so many flights that they literally wear themselves out and die before their usual appointed time.

In other cases, if a bee has a particularly easy life or is helping out around the hive more than it is out foraging, it might live longer than usual.

In this way, you might say that bumblebee lives are somewhat like our own lives: if they live fast and hard, they tend to die young! Conversely, “taking it easy” often leads to a longer life though not always as we will learn.

Bumblebee Drones Don’t Live Long at All!

Things definitely aren’t fair for bumblebees when you compare the lifespans of the boys and the girls.

Sadly, the boys tend to draw the short stick, and the drones of the hive, the male bees that go on mating flights with the queen to fertilize her, only live on average around 2 weeks at most.

In fact, they don’t have a purpose in life at all after they launch to go on that fateful mating flight: once the male drones leave the hive and mate, or fail to mate, with the queen they do not return and will die shortly thereafter.

In all cases and across all known species, the workers of the hive and the queen herself live considerably longer than the drones do.

Bumblebee Queens Live Longer than Any Other Bumblebee

It turns out too that rank hath its privileges, and the queen bumblebee of any species can be expected to live longer than any other bee in the hive: up to one year and sometimes longer!

That’s pretty amazing, and that’s because the queen has to stay alive longer to continually produce fertilized eggs which will hatch into new generations of bumblebees to sustain the colony.

The queen herself is even capable of overwintering in the ground or in another secure, insulated location so that she can emerge in the springtime to start a new hive. She might have to produce a new queen shortly thereafter, but the lineage of the hive will go on thanks to her long life.

Overall Colony Health Affects Lifespan

One thing I want you to keep in mind after reading all this is that these estimated lifespans are baselines.

There are all kinds of things, from poor genetics and bad weather to predator attacks, parasites, and disease that can reduce or drastically cut short the lifespan of a bumblebee.

The presence of predators, be they birds or mammals, is obviously a big one, and anything that manages to catch a bumblebee for food is almost certainly going to kill it. Game over!

But, other, smaller creditors like ants and wasps might result in injuries or maiming that can leave a bumblebee alive but facing a drastically reduced lifespan.

Similarly, really rough weather or the presence of parasites (deformed wing virus and Nosema cernae, for example) or illness can not only directly harm bumblebees and reduce their lifespan but increase the stress level of the colony which tends to reduce lifespan somewhat generally.

In short, tough times mean that all of the bees, whatever their role, must work longer and harder to ensure survival and this naturally cuts down on their lifetime.

Finally, some colonies get established and don’t have ample access to food or their access to food is reduced or taken away. Naturally, food shortages or outright starvation will significantly impact the lifespan of any living thing, bees included.

It also has a compounding effect because more bees must travel over farther distances to find adequate food, increasing workload and reducing lifespan even more.

Keep in Mind: Bumblebees Reproduce Continuously!

So, reading all of this you might be thinking that if you can simply wait out the presence of bumblebees on your property for about a month you won’t have to intervene, right?

No, wrong! It’s an easy fallacy to fall prey to, but you must remember that while any individual bee, save the queen, will only be expected to live about 30 days, the queen herself will be laying eggs continuously during the warm months!

This means that for every single worker that drops dead from old age or accident, dozens more are being born. If the hive is healthy, safe and has plenty of food you’re going to be dealing with ever-increasing numbers of bees, not less, until winter closes in.

I told you this not so that you take action and exterminate the poor bees- many bumblebee species are threatened and need as much help as they can get- but only for you to have a realistic estimation of how long you’ll have to put up with them.

If you don’t get rid of them or have the hive relocated, they are going to stick around for the duration even if many hundreds or thousands of bees die during that time.

Can Bumblebees Hibernate Through Winter?

Not generally. Only the queen will hibernate during the winter to establish a new colony in the springtime. The rest of the bees will die.

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