Difference between Honeybees and Bumblebees

December 7, 2016 by Editorial Team

It’s very common for people to mistake a honeybee for a bumblebee and vice versa. It’s not rocket science to tell them apart, so let’s end the confusion and find out how they are different.

Definitions

A European honeybee – with a slender body and distinct waist – collecting nectar

Honeybees are any bees that belong to the genus Apis, primarily known for making and storing honey in their colony made of wax. There are about 20,000 known species of bees, and honeybees are but a small fraction of it. There are only seven known species of honeybees, and they are composed of 44 subspecies. The Western honeybee is the most familiar honeybee, domesticated for its honey. It is also a great help in pollinating crops.

The color of the honeybee ranges from amber to translucent brown with alternating black stripes. The exact coloration and stripe patterns of the honeybee depend on the species. Honeybees are small, usually measuring .51 inches (1.3 centimeters) and are characterized by moderately furry, slender bodies. Honeybees are generally gentle with the exception of the highly aggressive Africanized honeybee, also known as the killer bee. The honeybee’s sting is unique because of small barbs at the end of the stinger. Only worker bees possess this kind of sting, and it actually pulls free out of its body and continues to bury itself upon contact.

Bumblebees
A queen bumblebee, with hair covering most of the body

Bumblebees belong to the genus Bombus, part of the Apidae family of bees. There are over 250 known species of bumblebees, with most species living in the Northern hemisphere although some are found in South America.

Bumblebees are highly social insects. They form colonies in small holes on the ground, typically around their queen. Bumblebees build smaller colonies than honeybees do, with as few as 50 members in a nest. Cuckoo bumblebees, however, do not build their own nest but take them from fellow bees. Their queens invade the nest, kill the other queens, then lay their own eggs.

Bumblebees look fuzzy with their round bodies covered with soft hair called “pile.” Their body changes to different bands of colors as an early warning system. Different bumblebee species in certain regions resemble each other as a form of protection. Bumblebees can sting and do not loose their stingers once stinging.

Just like honeybees, bumblebees feed on nectar with the use of their proboscis (tongue). They forage for food and gather nectar to be stored in their colonies. They also get pollen to feed their young. Bumblebees play a critical role in their own ecosystem as agricultural pollinators.

Comparison

Honeybees are from the genus Apus and are famous for their production and storage of honey in addition to their colonies made of wax. Bumblebees, on the other hand are of the genus Bombus, which is part of the Apidae family. There are over 250 species of bumblebees but only seven of honeybees (divided into 44 subspecies).

The honeybee has color variations ranging from amber to translucent brown that alternates with black or gray stripes. The bumblebee has yellow, orange and black stripes with an occasional red tail. While the honeybee’s slender body is moderately covered with furry, short hair, the bumblebee has a round and totally hairy body and abdomen. Armed with a “barbed” stinger, a honeybee will die after it stings, but a bumblebee can sting as much as it wants when threatened.

Honeybees build hives with over 50,000 bees, usually located above ground. Bumblebees typically live in underground colonies with 50 to 400 members. Honeybees are farmed for their honey, while bumblebees do not produce a lot of honey. This is why they remain free in the wild.

Comparison Chart

HoneybeesBumblebees
 Slim and moderately hairy body with translucent wings Round, hairy body with dark-colored wings
 Many color variations from amber to translucent brown; no stripes on thorax (area between head and abdomen) Colors vary from yellow to orange with gray or black stripes; stripes present on thorax
 Farmed in colonies for honey Lives in the wild; does not produce a lot of honey

Video

Can you tell which is which in this short video of a bumblebee and a honeybee collecting nectar from a flower?