The super pollinator
Bumblebees work quickly, 18 hours a day, and can easily withstand low temperatures thanks to their thick coats. As a result, they are used worldwide in fruit and vegetable cultivation as pollinators. In the past, pollination in greenhouses was carried out by hand. In addition to being very time-consuming, this method was much less effective. Around thirty years ago, it was found that bumblebees were also excellent pollinators in greenhouses.
How it works
The queen bee is the focal point of every bumblebee colony. She wakes up alone towards the end of the winter and starts to build a new nest in the spring. The queen bee lays eggs from which larvae hatch. After a few weeks, she gains help with taking care of the nest of the new-born bumblebees. These worker bees take care of the supply of food. They fly out, go from flower to flower looking for food, and take pollen back with them on the hairs on their furry bodies and on their legs. This is how bumblebees are able to pollinate a crop. Thanks to a special production process, Koppert Biological Systems in the Netherlands has bumblebee colonies available all year round that never fail to do their work, wherever they are.
Bumblebees pollinate flowers at exactly the right moment. This results in more products of the highest quality. Without pollination, no beautiful fruit will be produced.
Honeybees in a traditional hive, bumblebees in a modern nest box
The bumblebee is a close relative of the honeybee. Special nest boxes have been developed to allow bumblebees to be supplied all over the world. This kind of nest box forms a unique replacement for the nests that bumblebees build in the wild. These nest boxes can be installed in greenhouses or in orchards. After that, the grower can concentrate on other matters: the bumblebees simply get on with their work, and they do it well!
Have a look in a bumblebee hive here.
Bumblebees and honeybees
If you sit outside in a garden full of flowers, you will hear buzzing all around you. But are they bumblebees or honeybees? Bumblebees and honeybees resemble each other in many respects – they are related, after all. Bumblebees and honeybees both have six legs, five eyes, four wings, three body segments, two antennae, and one stinger. However, there are also differences. A bumblebee is larger than a honeybee and also has more hairs. That makes them look even larger.
Bumblebees are not aggressive. The females can sting, but rarely do. The stinger of the bumblebee doesn’t remain in the victim of a sting, unlike that of the honeybee. A bumblebee doesn’t die after stinging and can use its stinger on more than one occasion, like wasps.
A bumblebee lives in a colony with one queen and up to 500 other worker bees. A honeybee colony also has one queen but has up to 50,000 worker bees. A queen bumblebee doesn’t lay her eggs in a honeycomb. She lays them in tiny pots built from pollen.
Elegant dancers versus lonely eaters
Honeybees are able to tell each other where good food can be found. They do a dance at the entrance to their hive indicating the direction the others should take to find the food. Bumblebees often fly alone. They also switch more between different flowers and don’t tell each other where they found food.
Honeybees and bumblebees are important for the pollination of plants. They transport pollen from one flower to the pistil of another, and that is a very useful job!
Bees love to be among fruit trees. Compared with honeybees, bumblebees can cope better with low temperatures and lower light levels. As they also work more quickly, they are often used in fruit cultivation to supplement the work of the honeybees.
Watch a short clip of bumblebees pollinating flowers of a blueberry plant.
Did you know?
- There are almost thirty different species of bumblebee in the Netherlands
- A bumblebee will often have 200 sisters but only a few brothers
- A bumblebee always has a queen, but never a king
- A queen can sleep for almost 200 days and nights in a row
- A bumblebee actually shouldn’t be able to fly according to the laws of physics, as it is too heavy
- Scientists have racked their brains over this matter for many years
- A bumblebee uses a special flying technique that means it can fly after all
- A bumblebee can fly up to five kilometres and still know the way back
- A bumblebee even leaves the nest in very heavy rain and strong winds
- One bumblebee can visit a few thousand flowers per day
- The females do all the work and the males’ only function is mating
- Bumblebees can collect up to 60% of their own body weight in pollen
- Bumblebees are used in more than 30 different crops beside tomatoes
- Only the females can sting, but rarely do
- Bumblebees often serve as inspiration for artistic expression