Two New Guides to Identifying Bumble Bees

On a trip to western New York in October, I was taken by how many bumble bees there were.


Some were resting on leaves, etc.


Others were collecting pollen and nectar. Because there were so many, in fact, I soon wished I knew how to identify bumble bees better.

It not uncommon to have difficulty identifying bumble bees. Some species vary quite a bit in color and don’t have a lot of distinct morphological differences. Much of the bumble bee literature is quite old and the keys are out of date.

Fortunately The USDA Forest Service and The Pollinator Partnership recently have created two identification guides for bumble bees:  Bumble Bees of the Eastern United States by Sheila Colla, Leif Richardson and Paul Williams and Bumble Bees of the Western United States by Jonathan Koch, James Strange and Paul Williams

The two guides can be downloaded as free .pdfs at The Xerces Society (scroll to bottom of page).

(There are free downloadable bumble bee posters at the USDA Forest Service, too -scroll down.)

Looking through the Bumble Bees of the Eastern United States guide, I believe the bumble bee above on the thistle flower is Bombus impatiens, the common eastern bumble bee.



I can’t wait to give the western one a try on the species here in the Southwest.

Have you seen these guides? What kind of bumble bees do you see regularly?

Also, does anyone know of a rather small bumble bee that may have been introduced to western New York?

What Bumble Bees Can Tell You

Check out this shrub I discovered during a recent visit to western New York.


It had pink tubular flowers and variegated leaves.


It appears to be a Weigela, perhaps Weigela florida ‘Variegata.’


The flowers varied in color from basically white to very dark pink.


Although the flowers of other species of plants in the area were visited by a variety of insects, it was immediately apparent that these flowers are particularly attractive to bumble bees. There might have been a carpenter bee or two as well, but basically large, robust bees.


Regardless of the fact it was overcast, windy and raining at times, the bumble bees continued to visit.


Watching the bumble bees, I began to see a pattern.


Did you spot it right away?


Turns out that what I noticed has been verified in another species of Weigela.

Do you see the pattern I noticed? Let me know what you think it is.


Edit:  The answer is now posted.