Central California Bumble Bee Question

For the past two weeks I’ve been noticing more than the usual large number of Bombus vosnesenskii (Yellow-faced Bumble Bee) buzzing about in Coastal Monterey County from Elkhorn Slough down to at least Andrew Molera State Park. And they are flying very low, no more than a foot above the ground. I used to think that they stayed low because of the wind, but now that I’ve been taking photos of them for iNat I’ve noticed that the ones out now are larger and fatter than the ones later in the season. I thought it was queens that would be so fat and out early in Spring so perhaps they are flying low because they are looking for nesting locations? But there are really a lot of them, so I thought maybe they are males looking for queens to mate with? I’ve spent a couple of evenings going through my field guides and various websites without getting a decent explanation of what is going on. I’m betting there are folks on iNat who know.


What prompted this question is that they are really so abundant right now that I caught a photo of a B. vosnesenskii on one of my trail cams!

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As I know queens are wintering already after mating, so those should be queens looking for nest sites.

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Yes, the large bumblebees that you see in the late winter/early spring are queens (who mated in the previous fall, then hibernated.) The male bumblebees are much smaller than the queens. The queens are out looking for nest sites and/or looking for pollen and nectar to provision their nests. Later in the season, their daughter worker bees take over most of the foraging duty.


Thank you very much! Yes, the two bees I watched closely for about 30 minutes a few days ago were definitely inspecting holes, including impressions left by deer hooves and in particular one old gopher hole… but they never settled on anything and eventually flew on.

Thanks! I was interested to find that the queens in our area do not overwinter in nests… they overwinter in deep Monterey Cypress duff, at least four inches down. Another critical habitat for gardeners to be aware of!

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