Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Cuckoo Bumblebees

Fort Tryon Park was abuzz with bumblebees today. I was lucky enough to catch this one on my camera. Look how adorable she is! She hovered noisily, then dipped down and squeezed her fat little self into a flower, gobbled up the nectar and pollen voraciously, then buzzed out, wiggled into another flower, and so on. When I realized that I didn't know much about bumblebees other than their cute factor, I figured this is information that a burgeoning beekeeper should know.

First of all, I thought they didn't sting. I realize now that I based this belief on my experience petting bumblebees, which is extensive (albeit extraordinary.) But they do sting, especially when they're defending their nest. The main difference between of bumblebees and honeybees is colony size; bumblebees usually have less than 50 members per colony, and we've all seen how many honeybees there can be. Plus, all except specially-created queens die before winter. The overwintering queens emerge in the spring and lay eggs conceived with the previous generation's drones. Honeybees, like humans, are forced to deal with the winter by mostly staying inside, eating, and cuddling together.
Bumblebees are skilled pollinators with funny names and cute little fuzzy stripes, so I love them too. Look at that gorgeous poppy pollen.... yum.Interestingly, there is a parasitic species of bumblebee called the Cuckoo bumblebee, who has lost the ability to collect pollen and thus support him/herself. There is no Queen Cuckoo. A female Cuckoo bumblebee will act like a normal bumblebee, foraging nectar and returning to the nest of the normal bees, an invader and impostor. Then, she enslaves the normal bumblebee queen and her entire colony, reproduces, and feeds the normal bees to her young. The Cuckoo Bumblebees have bigger sacks of venom and bigger mandibles, so there's really no defending yourself against the Cuckoos, if you're a bumblebee. The Cuckoo is the baddest bitch in the blossoms. Personally, I find it suspect that for the first few days of her insidious takeover plan, she feeds directly from the flowers. I mean, if she really wanted to she could just continue this practice, rather than brainwashing a bunch of other bees to do all her work for her and then eating them. It just seems a little over the top. For those of you who worry that my irreverently public insults about the Cuckoos will incite some kind of Cuckoo Assassination Mission against me, (and you know who you are,) don't worry. They are totally oblivious to humans and other mammals. Plus, I doubt they'd read a honeybee blog over a bumblebee blog, so I'm 90% safe.
Next time you see a cute little bumblebee waddling into a flower, ask yourself: Could this bee be Cuckoo? Or, could it be the slave bee of a Cuckoo master?
Although you can't see my shoes in the picture below, all of these photos were taken in bee camo. I could say that I didn't even realize it, but that'd be a lie. I did. What can I say? Bees make me happy.


  1. I'm blown away by the Cuckoo bee! What a little bee bastard! Do you know about the cow bird? They essentially do the same thing. The cow bird lays its eggs in other birds nest when they are out flying around. Then all of the eggs hatch (the nice bird's and the cow bird's) and the cow bird chicks are more aggressive and eat all the food. The nice bird chicks end up starving because the mean cow chicks are greedy and bigger and eat everything.

    The cow bird has always upset me ever since I was little. Adding the cuckoo bee to the list...

  2. I remember the Cow Bird, and think I was scared of him/her. What happens to the regular bird? Does it starve, too?

  3. The cow bird mom flies off never to return again after laying her egg. The nice momma bird hatches her eggs along with the cow bird eggs and then sticks around trying to raise a nice little family. Unfortunately the fat ass cow bird chick eats all the food she brings for everyone in the nest. The little nice chicks most likely die, the cow chick turns in to a nasty cow bird and goes on to terrorize other momma birds and the original momma bird is alone in the world with now little chickedees around. One saaaaaaaaaaaaaaad story :(