Updated: 27th April 2021
Is it bumble bee or bumblebee? Should I write it as one word or two?
The short answer is:
Technically, it should be written as two words - this is spelling sanctioned by entomologists, however, both versions are commonly used. Below you will find an explanation as to why it is more correct to write it as two words.
According to the Entomological Society of America Common Names of Insects Database, it should be written as two words.
The rationale for this was explained very well in Anatomy of the Honey Bee from 1956, by Robert E. Snodgrass:
Authors of The Bees In Your Backyard, Wilson and Messenger Carril, also tackle the question directly.
The authors go on to separate the two words (i.e. bumble bee) within the Bombus section of their book.
Other authors also write it as two words, take for example: Bumble Bees Of North America – this was written by:
Quite a lot of text books and natural history books written by experts, have concatenated the two words (i.e. joined ‘bumble’
and ‘bee’ together) – such as Professor Dave Goulson’s book – Bumblebee Behaviour
And Ecology, and Bernd Heinrich’s Bumblebee Economics.
There is also one of my old favourites by Ted Benton – a weighty
hardback: Bumblebees (Collins New Naturalist)
Based on these books, at the time I proceeded to write the whole of my website, joining the
two words together to form one word – bumblebee.
Nevertheless, it seemed odd to me that we have ‘mason bees’,
and ‘leafcutter bees’ (two
words). I felt it appeared to suggest that the first word merely described the type of
bee, and in that sense, I wondered whether we should really be writing ‘bumble bee’.
However, from now on I will probably split the words for new pages, but regarding the pages I have already written, I will edit them gradually.
I was aware that Charles Darwin used the term 'humble-bee'. For example, in his writings "On the routes of the males of Bombus" (from "The Correspondence of Charles Darwin") he says:
"On 8 September 1854 one of my sons saw a few humble-bees going into a hollow at the foot of a tall ash tree......Hoping to find a humble-bee nest inside, I looked in, but could not see any chamber."
Later, a book written in 1912, by F. W. L. Sladen The Humble Bee also uses the term ‘humble’. He also hyphenates honey bee as honey-bee. Within the book, he starts the introduction writing ‘bumble-bee’, but then appears to use both ‘humble’ immediately after:
Download Sladen's book for free.