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Common eastern bumblebee

Our Work Invasive insects  |  Insect Watch

A North American bee, the common eastern bumblebee (Bombus impatiens) that competes with native bees and birds for nectar, and benefits weeds by pollinating their flowers.

The queen is an especially long-looking bee. Photo: Jacy Lucier | CC BY-SA 4.0

Identification

Bumblebees at flowers are easy to distinguish from honeybees because they are plump and furry and usually larger. The only native bees to look much like them are carpenter bees, which are big but far less furry and have different colour patterns. Tasmania has a concerning species of introduced bumblebee (the large earth bumblebee) with different colours from this one.
The thorax is pale yellow or straw-coloured. The first segment of the abdomen matches the thorax in colour, while the rest of the abdomen (on the upper side) is covered in neat black fur.

Photo: Ryan Hodnett | CC BY-SA 4.0

Size

Workers are 8.5–18 millimetres long, and queens can be 23 millimetres long.

(Honeybees workers are 11.5-13 millimetres long.)

Similar species

Carpenter bees (Xylocopa aruana and X. lieftincki) are so big and furry they are sometimes confused with bumblebees. The females have a bright yellow or golden thorax, and abdomens that look shiny because these are largely bare of hairs. The entire abdomen is black. They are 13-18 millimetres long. The males are yellowy-brown or olive all over, with no black on the abdomen.

Carpenter bee (X. lieftincki) Ken Walker, Museum Victoria

The large earth bumblebee (B. terrestris), found in Tasmania, has broad bands in three colours: black, yellow (or ochre) and white. If you see one of these outside Tasmania you should report it (see our page on this bee).

Large earth bumblebee. Photo: Alvesgaspar | CC BY-SA 3.0

The teddy bear bee (Amegilla bombiformis) is plump and furry, but is brown rather than black and yellow.

Y

Teddy bear bee. Photo: Louise Docker | CC BY 2.0

Behaviour and Location

Bumblebees visit flowers of garden plants, weeds, and native plants. If one is seen briefly, others may be seen by monitoring the same flowers. They nest in burrows in the ground and may be seen entering or leaving these.

This species can be found from Canada south to Miami in Florida, implying that it could survive across must of Australia, south of the tropics.

Safe collecting

Because bumblebees return to clumps of flowers, it is often possible to obtain photos by waiting beside these once a bee has been spotted. One can be collected with a net, or by lowering a jar or plastic bag over it while it is busy at a flower.

Bumblebees can sting multiple times so be careful. A bee that has been caught can be killed by placing it in the freezer and then photographed when it has thawed.

Who to tell

Think you’ve found common eastern bumblebees?

If you find them phone 1800 900 090 and ask for the office of Australia’s Chief Environmental Biosecurity Officer. If you do not receive a satisfactory response within a week email us via our contact form. Please do not contact us in the first instance.

The problem

Common eastern bumblebees were imported to British Columbia in Canada in the early 2000s for greenhouse pollination, and by 2003 they were established in the wild, and they keep spreading. At one site of investigation they were found to be more common than all the native bees. The concern for Australia is the prospect of this bee displacing native pollinating animals, including bees, butterflies, other insects and birds. Tasmania now has large earth bumblebees from Europe competing for nectar with critically endangered swift parrots. They are also worsening some weed problems by serving as a superior pollinator, and this bumblebee could do that as well. Common eastern bumblebees are favoured pollinators of greenhouse crops, and the risk is real is that a horticulturist will smuggle queens into Australia.

Further Information

Who to tell

Think you’ve found common eastern bumblebees?

If you find them phone 1800 900 090 and ask for the office of Australia’s Chief Environmental Biosecurity Officer.

Other Insect Profiles

Dear Project Team,

[YOUR PERSONALISED MESSAGE WILL APPEAR HERE.] 

I support the amendment to the Kosciuszko National Park Wild Horse Heritage Management Plan to allow our incredible National Parks staff to use aerial shooting as one method to rapidly reduce feral horse numbers. I want to see feral horse numbers urgently reduced in order to save the national park and our native wildlife that live there.

The current approach is not solving the problem. Feral horse numbers have rapidly increased in Kosciuszko National Park to around 18,000, a 30% jump in just the past 2 years. With the population so high, thousands of feral horses need to be removed annually to reduce numbers and stop our National Park becoming a horse paddock. Aerial shooting, undertaken humanely and safely by professionals using standard protocols, is the only way this can happen.

The government’s own management plan for feral horses states that ‘if undertaken in accordance with best practice, aerial shooting can have the lowest negative animal welfare impacts of all lethal control methods’.

This humane and effective practice is already used across Australia to manage hundreds of thousands of feral animals like horses, deer, pigs, and goats.

Trapping and rehoming of feral horses has been used in Kosciuszko National Park for well over a decade but has consistently failed to reduce the population, has delayed meaningful action and is expensive. There are too many feral horses in the Alps and not enough demand for rehoming for it to be relied upon for the reduction of the population.

Fertility control as a management tool is only effective for a small, geographically isolated, and accessible population of feral horses where the management outcome sought is to maintain the population at its current size. It is not a viable option to reduce the large and growing feral horse population in the vast and rugged terrain of Kosciuszko National Park.

Feral horses are trashing and trampling our sensitive alpine ecosystems and streams, causing the decline and extinction of native animals. The federal government’s Threatened Species Scientific Committee has stated that feral horses ‘may be the crucial factor that causes final extinction’ for 12 alpine species.

I recognise the sad reality that urgent and humane measures are necessary to urgently remove the horses or they will destroy the Snowies and the native wildlife that call the mountains home. I support a healthy national park where native species like the Corroboree Frog and Mountain Pygmy Possum can thrive.

Kind regards,
[Your name]
[Your email address]
[Your postcode]


Dear Project Team,

[YOUR PERSONALISED MESSAGE WILL APPEAR HERE.] 

I support the amendment to the Kosciuszko National Park Wild Horse Heritage Management Plan to allow our incredible National Parks staff to use aerial shooting as one method to rapidly reduce feral horse numbers. I want to see feral horse numbers urgently reduced in order to save the national park and our native wildlife that live there.

The current approach is not solving the problem. Feral horse numbers have rapidly increased in Kosciuszko National Park to around 18,000, a 30% jump in just the past 2 years. With the population so high, thousands of feral horses need to be removed annually to reduce numbers and stop our National Park becoming a horse paddock. Aerial shooting, undertaken humanely and safely by professionals using standard protocols, is the only way this can happen.

The government’s own management plan for feral horses states that ‘if undertaken in accordance with best practice, aerial shooting can have the lowest negative animal welfare impacts of all lethal control methods’.

This humane and effective practice is already used across Australia to manage hundreds of thousands of feral animals like horses, deer, pigs, and goats.

Trapping and rehoming of feral horses has been used in Kosciuszko National Park for well over a decade but has consistently failed to reduce the population, has delayed meaningful action and is expensive. There are too many feral horses in the Alps and not enough demand for rehoming for it to be relied upon for the reduction of the population.

Fertility control as a management tool is only effective for a small, geographically isolated, and accessible population of feral horses where the management outcome sought is to maintain the population at its current size. It is not a viable option to reduce the large and growing feral horse population in the vast and rugged terrain of Kosciuszko National Park.

Feral horses are trashing and trampling our sensitive alpine ecosystems and streams, causing the decline and extinction of native animals. The federal government’s Threatened Species Scientific Committee has stated that feral horses ‘may be the crucial factor that causes final extinction’ for 12 alpine species.

I recognise the sad reality that urgent and humane measures are necessary to urgently remove the horses or they will destroy the Snowies and the native wildlife that call the mountains home. I support a healthy national park where native species like the Corroboree Frog and Mountain Pygmy Possum can thrive.

Kind regards,
[Your name]
[Your email address]
[Your postcode]