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The Humble Bumble Bee

There seems to me to be some confusion around the difference between honey bees and bumble bees! 

Bumble bees and honey bees are very different.

Bumble bees don’t make much honey. They only make enough to feed themselves, they have none to store, they make up for it by looking sweeter than honey bees though. They have short stubby wings and are fluffier. They are quite a bit larger than the honey bee and have much wider black and yellow stripes. A bumble bee can be as long as 23mm. 

Bumble Bee

I have stroked a bumble bee in Tasmania. I was sitting outside in a coffee shop, when a huge bumble bee settled on to a pink rose. I couldn’t resist leaning forwards to stroke her. She seemed quite content and stayed for a few minutes before calmly buzzing on to the next flower to gather nectar.

They live in small colonies, generally up to around 200 bees, they don’t hibernate or cluster during the winter. The autumn chill comes and the entire colony die apart from the queen bumble bee. She hibernates underground until spring arrives when she emerges to form new nest sites. Favourite locations for nests are mouse nests, animal burrows or small ground cavities close to sources of food.


Bumble bees did not attend Zeus and Hera’a wedding. Luckily for them they can sting and sting again, without the curse of death.

The Melissae of Ancient Greece
The famous Greek myth tells the story of Melissa, the honey bee winning a prize at Zeus and Hera’s wedding for the most delicious food offering…AMBROSIA

Zeus promised to grant Melissa a wish as her reward.

Melissa’s wish was to be given a weapon to defend her delicious ambrosia. She complained to Zeus that it was incredibly hard to gather nectar and to make honey which was often stolen by larger animals. She buzzed that the scorpion had been given a sting, wolf canines etc. 

Zeus hated the idea of this wish on his wedding day. A weapon to wreak violence, what could be worse?

He was so annoyed that he gave her a sting, a sting that protruded from her stomach and at the end of the sting was a barb. This meant that if she was to use her sting, she would lose her innards in the process which would kill her. Perhaps if Melissa had shown a bit more generosity, Zeus would not have been so brutal…this is why the honey bee dies when gives a sting.

Only the female bumble bee can sting, bumble bees are not aggressive though and would only sting if threatened by something.

Bumble bees and honey bees are extremely important pollinators. Two thirds of the world’s crop species depend on animals to transfer pollen between male and female flower parts. 

Bumble bee on flower with pollen

Both bumble and honey bees are under threat, mainly due to pesticide use and habitat destruction. Of 19 species of native nest making bumble bees, 3 have been extirpated and six are in serious decline. A decline in bumble bees could cause large scale changes to the countryside, resulting from inadequate pollination of various plants.

Both bees work hard pollinating. Bumble bees tend to symbolise brightness, community and personal power. The ancient druids saw the bee as symbolising the sun, the Goddess, celebration and community. 

At ancient festivals mead was usually drunk. A fermented honey, alcoholic drink. Beeble is making a sparkling mead which should be ready to drink this spring, keep an eye on our website to be sure to get a bottle as there will be a limited supply!

Written by Nicola 

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