Ray Harvey of Dunedin asks :-

Do bumble bees make honey, live in hives, sting, and have a queen bee, just like honey bees?

Barry Donovan, an independent entomologist at the Canterbury Agriculture and Science Centre, Lincoln, responded.

Bumble bees make their nests in small dry cavities containing some organic fibrous material which helps separate the nest from the often damp and cold substrate. Abandoned nests of mice and rats are frequently utilised, but places such as dense clumps of dead grass, cavities between bales of hay, and holes in stuffed arms of chairs will also be used. A mature nests consists of hundreds of thimble-sized, upright cocoons and smaller cells, all jumbled together to form a pile up to about 150 mm across and half as high, so the form of the nest is quite different to that of a honey bee colony where the cells are arranged to form precise, waxen combs. Bumble bees can be sometimes induced to make their nests in man-made sites such as wooden boxes, if some fibrous material such as sheeps' wool or old carpet underfelt is folded into the boxes.

Bumble bees do make and store honey which humans find edible, but the volume of at most a few hundred millilitres is so small that harvesting it for food is quite uneconomic. However in some parts of southeastern Europe, because of perceived medicinal values, small quantities are sometimes available at high prices.

Queen and worker bumble bees, which are all females, do indeed posses stings, which they will use on people if they or their colonies are threatened. Male bumble bees, just like the males of all kinds of bees and wasps and indeed like all Hymenoptera, do not have stings, but if in danger some will fake stinging-type behaviour.

Just like honey bees, bumble bee colonies have a queen, workers, and drones or males, but workers and drones together usually number no more than a few hundred. However unlike honey bee colonies, bumble bee colonies collapse as winter approaches, and queens are then alone while they hibernate over winter, and for up to six weeks as they found a nest before their first workers hatch out.