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How Long Do Bumblebees Live? (Life Span)

The average lifespan of most bumblebees is 28 days. Bumblebee workers live much shorter lives than their queens. Bumblebee queens live for a year on average.

Bumblebees are gentle creatures. They don’t do much harm, and they generally keep to themselves.

In this article, we’ll discuss how long they live, their life cycle, and what factors affect their life span.

In total, there are over 250 different species of bumblebees, so it’s only natural that their life span differs. In this article, we’ll look at the most common.

How Long Do Bumblebees Live on Average?

Bumblebees typically live for 4 weeks (28 days), but it differs depending on their role.

There are several factors that play into this, such as available food sources, predators, the general health of the hive, as well as the constant change in their natural habitats.

Bumblebee populations have been declining at an alarming rate over the last few decades due to climate change and habitat loss. The American Bumblebee is even close to being categorized as an endangered species. [1]

Bumblebees are important pollinators. They’re vital for the survival of crops, flowers, and even some of our food, hence it’s important to keep them alive. [2]

Related: How long do bees live?

A Bumblebee Pollinating a Chive Flower (Allium schoenoprasum)

Worker Bumblebees

Bumblebee workers live between 2-6 weeks on average. However, this may depend on what season the bumblebee is born in. 

Worker bumblebees are usually more active during the warmer months of spring and summer rather than the colder winter months. 

Some species of bumblebees, such as the Bombus terricola have even shorter life spans, living only up to 3 weeks.

Related: Worker bees

worker bumblebees

Queen Bumblebees

Queen bumblebees live longer than any other type of bumblebee, which is about 1 year on average. 

The queen is the most important of them all, being responsible for keeping a consistent flow of new workers. 

Queens start their journey in the late summer, where she’ll at first be responsible for finding her own food. She’ll hibernate through the winter, and start producing workers in the spring.

Once the first workers hatch, they’ll take over the tasks of foraging, nest building, and general care of the colony.

Queen bumblebees spend much of their life hibernating, so even though they live for a full year, they’re inactive a lot of the time.

Related: Queen bee

Drone Bumblebees

Male bumblebees, called drones, live for about 2 weeks on average. They’re born to mate, and they’re born at the same time as virgin queens.

Their short life span comes from the fact, that they die after mating. When they’re ready to fly off to mate, they’ll never return to the nest.

Related: Drone bee

drone bumblebee

Factors That Determine the Life Span of Bumblebees

1. Available Food Sources

Bumblebees are herbivores, meaning they feed on pollen and nectar. The availability of pollen and nectar affects the lifespan of bumblebees. 

Bumblebees need to eat frequently, especially when they are young. When food is scarce, it limits how long a bumblebee can live. This is very logical: if there’s no food, they can’t eat, and if they can’t eat, they die. 

Additionally, when food is low, bumblebees need to travel long distances to find it, which can shorten their lives even further.

Related: What do bumblebees eat?

bumblebee on a flower full of pollen

2. Predators

Bumblebees have predators such as ants, wasps, hornets, and birds that affect the lifespan of bumblebees. 

If a predator catches a bumblebee, it usually dies immediately. 

They’ll instead serve as a part of the food chain, feeding their predator.

European Bee-Eater

3. Health of the Hive

To stay alive, you have to stay healthy – the same goes for bumblebees.

The health of a bumblebee colony can be diminished by disease, stress, or parasites. It can be very difficult for bumblebees to overcome these obstacles, which often result in death.

Stressed bees will produce fewer offspring, which limits the growth rate of the hive. Thus, increasing the stress on bees, meaning they will forage longer to compensate. 

Ultimately, the hive is at risk of dying off entirely if no steps are taken to address this imbalance.

bumblebees making honey in the hive

4. Bumblebee Role (Worker, Queen, Drone)

The role a bumblebee is born into affects its life span greatly. As discussed earlier, queens live the longest (1 year), while drones live the shortest lives (2 weeks).

Sometimes, the life span simply comes down to luck.

5. Environment and Living Conditions

Extremes of weather like intense heat, cold, and rain can significantly affect the lifespan of bumblebees. 

If there’s a lack of rain and a scorching temperature, bumblebees will struggle to find food and water.

Related: Where do bumblebees live?

honeybees beehive on a tree

6. Diseases & Parasites

Parasites and diseases affect the lifespan of bumblebees in ways such as decreasing immunity, where bumblebees lose the ability to fight off parasites.

There are several parasites and diseases that can kill an entire colony of bumblebees.

red mite

How Do Bumblebees Live Through the Winter?

Bumblebees sleep through winter, hibernating to conserve energy. Queens that are born in the late summer will hibernate through the winter. These are the bumblebees that reappear in the spring. [3]

When coming out of hibernation, the queens find a suitable nesting site, and will then start laying eggs.

They prepare for winter by foraging for food beforehand and then hibernating in an undisturbed place, which will serve as a shelter against the weather. 

Workers bees aren’t present for winter, as they’ll have died off beforehand, only living during the spring and summer.

How Long Can Bumblebees Live Without Food?

Bumblebees are large, and they use a lot of energy for flying. They eat often, and they eat a lot during the day (compared to their size). 

Bumblebees can starve to death in as little as an hour, sometimes faster.

However long it may take, it is essential to note that bumblebees will eventually starve if they go without food long enough. 

Bees feed on nectar and gather pollen for protein. Pollen is very nutritious for bees but still does not provide them with all the nutrients they need; bees also need to drink water or eat honey.

Now, when queen bumblebees are hibernating, they need much less food. Queens can survive up to nine months on a full stomach of honey.

Life Cycle of Bumble Bees

The average life cycle of a bumblebee is thought to be about 10 weeks, from starting out as an egg to when they die. They go through four different phases in their lives, much like many other insects.

Here’s what the life cycle of bumblebees looks like:

  • Egg (4 days)
  • Larvae (2 weeks)
  • Pupae (2 weeks)
  • Adult (2-6 weeks)

1. Bumblebee Eggs

Bumblebees are social insects that live in colonies. Each colony has a single queen who lays all of the eggs. The queen bumblebee will seek protected locations on the ground or on vegetation to build nests to lay eggs.

An average bumblebee spends about 4 days as an egg, before turning into larvae.

She makes several cells out of wax secreted by her body and provisions each cell with food for the growing bee.

If it’s the first batch of eggs, the queen will do all of this by herself, but as more and more workers are born, they’ll take of the process of caring for brood.

bumblee bee eggs

2. Bumblebee Larvae

Bumblebee larvae are tiny, segmented grubs that look like white maggots.

Each colony contains several larvae. Bumblebees usually have around 10 – 20 larvae per nest. The larvae spend their time eating, resting, and growing.

Bumblebees spend about 2 weeks as larvae.

Larvae can’t do much, and they’re fed nectar and pollen by the queen (if it’s the first batch), in order to grow into pupae, the next step in their life cycle.

bee larvae

3. Bumblebee Pupae

A pupa is the final stage before bumblebees turn into adults. 

Bumblebees spend about 2 weeks in their pupae stage before turning into adults, where they’ll be able to contribute to the colony.

Bumblebee pupae are like cocoons with no appendages, antennae, or wings. They do not eat during this stage of their life but rely on the fat reserves built up when they were larvae; these reserves last about a week. 

The pupae do not move or react to the world around them but may wriggle a bit in response to touch.

bee pupae

4. Adult Bumblebee

The final stage of a bumblebee’s life cycle is adulthood. 

Depending on what kind of role they’re born into, they’ll either hatch as a virgin queen (who’ll start her own colony soon after being born), a worker (who’ll help out with different tasks such as foraging), or a drone (male bumblebees whose only job is to mate with virgin queens).

When a bee emerges from its cocoon, it must wait patiently before its body dries and hardens. Using all six legs, the pupa squeezes out of its old skin and slowly pulls itself up by gripping onto fibers in the cell.

On average, bumblebees spend 2-6 weeks in this phase, though queens live for up to a year, starting and caring for their own colonies.

Conclusion

Most bumblebees will live for 2-6 weeks, but the queen bumblebee can live up to a full year. There are several factors that play into this, the most important being temperatures, available food sources, predators, and general health.

If bumblebees don’t have any food sources nearby, they can starve to death within an hour – they need to eat often, as they use a lot of energy moving around because of their big, bulky bodies.

About Teodoro Pittman

Teodoro is a nature and animal lover. He specifically focuses on insects, such as ants, bees, and the like. In his free time, he takes care of his own ant farm, where he analyzes their behavior. Teodoro has spent the last 7 years studying the intricate behavior of these small creatures.