The bumblebee queen will emerge from hibernation, already impregnated from the previous year, and will then begin to feed. Nectar will provide her with much needed energy, whilst pollen will give protein, and help her ovaries to develop.
She will then begin the important endeavour of finding a suitable nest site. You may see them early in the year, zig-zagging low across the grass, exploring banks and hedgerow bottoms, and possibly bumping into windows as they try to find a suitable place to establish a nest and rear a colony.
Nest sites, due to habitat destruction, have become increasingly
scarce, and it is believed queens will even fight over suitable sites.
Once a suitable nest site has been found, the queen will then begin to establish her colony. Seeing a queen bumblebee carrying pollen loads on her legs is a signal that the establishment of a colony is now underway.
The queen bumblebee is larger than the workers and males she produces. Unlike the female workers, she has the ability to control the sex of the eggs she lays through the use of a chemical signal (pheromone). Worker bumblebees can produce eggs too, but their offspring will be male bees only.
Queens will sometimes face competition from cuckoo bumblebees. Cuckoos attempt to take over a nest, sometimes (but not always) killing the resident queen if successful. Unlike the host, cuckoo species are unable to carry pollen and secrete wax to make cells.
At the end of the season, only the newly emerged queen bumblebees will survive (although there are some exceptions in warm climates). They will mate, and hibernate to establish new colonies the following year. New queens emerge from colonies toward the end of the season, and begin feeding to lay down fat reserves ready for hibernation.
In truth, a colony can only be deemed successful if it has had the opportunity to successfully produce queens that can mate and hibernate, and thus ensure future generations.
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