half-black bumble bee

(Bombus vagans)

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List

LC - Least Concern

half-black bumble bee


N4? - Apparently Secure


not listed




June to August


Shady forests, wooded areas, urban parks, wetlands, and gardens.


Queen: 9 16 to ¾

Male: 7 16 to ½

Worker: ¼ to

          Photo by Bill Reynolds

Half-black bumble bee is a common, small, colonial, ground-nesting bumble bee.

The female (worker) bee is ¼ to long. The head, thorax, and abdomen are densely covered with relatively long hairs. The upperside of the thorax is mostly covered with yellow hairs except for a small, round, black, bare spot in the middle that is more or less fringed with short black hairs.

There are six abdominal segments. The first two are densely covered with yellow hairs. On segment 2 the yellow portion is occasionally narrowed slightly in the middle rear (apically) with black hairs. Segments 3 through 6 are entirely black.

The hairs on the head are mostly black but there is a dense tuft of yellowish hairs at the top (vertex). There are two large compound eyes, one on each side of the head; and three small simple eyes (ocelli) in a triangular pattern at the top of the head between the compound eyes. The middle ocellus is larger than the the two lateral ones. The top of the small (lateral) ocelli are on a virtual line (supraorbital line) with the top of the compound eyes. There are long black hairs and a few shorter pale hairs around the base of the antennae. The antennae have 12 segments. The first antenna segment is longer than the second or third, but shorter than the two combined. The space below the compound eye (malar space) corresponding to the cheek, is longer than wide. The hardened plate above the upper lip (clypeus) is smooth, shiny, and swollen. The tongue is medium-length.

The wings are lightly tinged with brown to dull brick red.

The legs are often reddish.

The queen is similar but larger.

The male (drone) is similar but has 7 abdominal segments and 13 antennae segments. Abdominal segments 3 through 7 are black but with evident yellow hairs at the margins.


Sanderson’s bumble bee (Bombus sandersoni) hairs on the top of the head are black. The malar space is square, as wide as long. There are a few yellow hairs on the fifth abdominal segment. The black spot on the upper thorax may be absent or unclear.

Larval Food

Honey mixed with pollen and nectar of flowers.

Adult Food

Pollen and nectar of flowers

Life Cycle

Overwintering queens emerge from hibernation in May. They build nests mostly underground but sometimes on the surface of the ground or in hollow trees.


Bumble bees will sting to protect themselves or their nest. The stinger is not barbed and the bee can sting multiple times.

Distribution Distribution Map  

Sources: 7, 24, 27, 29, 30.





Hymenoptera (ants, bees, wasps, and sawflies)



Apocrita (wasps, ants and bees)






Apoidea (apoid wasps, bees, sphecoid wasps)



Apidae (bumble bees, honey bees, and stingless bees)



Apinae (honey, bumble, long-horned, orchid, and digger bees)






Bombus (bumble bees)







half-black bumble bee

Bumble Bee or Bumblebee?

In common usage the word bumblebee is written at least as often as the as the term bumble bee. In scientific usage, however, there is a “correct” form. The rule is: if the second part of the term accurately reflects the organism’s identity then it should stand alone. If it does not, then it should be concatenated. In short, “If true, then two.”

The Entomological Society of America follows the convention suggested by R. E. Snodgrass, author of Anatomy of the Honey Bee, when assigning common names to insects. Snodgrass states, “If the insect is what the name implies, write the two words separately; otherwise run them together. Thus we have such names as house fly, blow fly and robber fly contrasted with dragonfly, caddisfly and butterfly, because the latter are not flies, just as an dandelion is not a lion and a silverfish is not a fish. The honey bee is an insect and is preeminently a bee; ‘honeybee’ is equivalent to ‘Johnsmith.’”



On insects, a hardened plate on the face above the upper lip (labrum).


Malar space

In Hymenoptera, the space, equivalent to the cheek, between the bottom of the compound eye and the base of the mandible.



Simple eye; an eye with a single lens. Plural: ocelli.



Bumble Bee Identification

Elaine Evans, a PhD candidate in the Department on Entomology at the University of Minnesota, the University of MN Bee Lab, and BefriendingBumblebees.com have published a handy identification chart of Minnesota bumble bees. Handy, that is, for entomologists. Indispensable for amateur naturalists in Minnesota or anyone wanting to identify the bumble bee in their photo. Click on the images below to download the PDFs.


Guide to MN Bumble Bees I

Guide to MN Bumble Bees I (Females)



Guide to MN Bumble Bees II

Guide to MN Bumble Bees II (Males)


Visitor Photos
Share your photo of this insect.

This button not working for you?
Simply email us at info@MinnesotaSeasons.com.
Attach one or more photos and, if you like, a caption.

Bill Reynolds

The Bull Thistle is alive with bees of all kinds!

  half-black bumble bee   half-black bumble bee
MinnesotaSeasons.com Photos
  half-black bumble bee   half-black bumble bee
  half-black bumble bee   half-black bumble bee



  Half-black Bumble Bee (Bombus vagans)
Andree Reno Sanborn
  Half-black Bumble Bee (Bombus vagans)  



Visitor Videos
Share your video of this insect.

This button not working for you?
Simply email us at info@MinnesotaSeasons.com.
Attach a video, a YouTube link, or a cloud storage link.

Other Videos
  Bumble bees mating
Ernie Cooper

Published on Aug 22, 2013

Queen and drone half-black bumble bees (Bombus vagans) mating. They settled on the rug on the back deck of my house and continued for about an hour before suddenly flying away...




Visitor Sightings
Report a sighting of this insect.
This button not working for you?
Simply email us at info@MinnesotaSeasons.com.
Be sure to include a location.

Bill Reynolds

Location: Pennington MN

The Bull Thistle is alive with bees of all kinds!

half-black bumble bee

MinnesotaSeasons.com Sightings




Last Updated:

About Us | Privacy Policy | Contact Us | © 2020 MinnesotaSeasons.com. All rights reserved.