northern amber bumble bee

(Bombus borealis)

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List

LC - Least Concern

northern amber bumble bee


N4N5 - Apparently Secure to Secure


not listed


Frequently found


May to September




Queen: 11 16 to

Male: 9 16 to

Worker: ½

          Photo by Bill Reynolds


This is a large, frequently found, colonial, ground-nesting bumble bee.

The female (worker) bee is ½ long. The thorax and abdomen are densely covered with short hairs. The thorax is bright yellow with a conspicuous black stripe between the bases of the wings and some darker, brownish-gray hairs on the sides. There are six abdominal segments. The first through fourth are yellow, the fifth and sixth are black.

The head is mostly black. 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 pale hairs around the base of the antennae and conspicuous bright yellow hairs on the top of the head and on the face. The hairs above the ocelli are usually entirely yellow. The tongue is short. The antennae have 12 segments. The fifth antenna segment is longer than the third or fourth. The wings are lightly brownish tinged with dull brick red to black veins.

The queen is similar but larger.

The male (drone) is similar but smaller and has longer hairs, 7 abdominal segments, and 13 antennae segments. The hairs at the base of the antennae are mostly black. Abdominal segments 5 and 6 are black at the base with considerable yellow hairs at the apex. Segment 7 is black with long black hairs.


Yellow bumble bee (Bombus fervidus) has black hairs on the top of the head and on the face. The hairs above the ocelli may have some short yellow hairs mixed with the longer black hairs.

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. After emerging, a queen will forage for pollen, and search for a new site. When one is found she will construct a hollow consisting of an egg chamber and a honeypot. She tends to her brood by sitting on them, fanning them with her wings, and feeding them. When adults emerge they feed themselves from the honeypot and take over care of the brood. Nests do not survive the winter. Males die soon after mating. Old queens and workers are killed by cold weather in the fall, while new mated queens hibernate beneath the soil litter.


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: 24, 27, 29, 30.


Conservation Status
The abundance of northern amber bumble bee has decreased 7.11% across North America when comparing historical records (1802 to 2001) to current records (2002 to 2012). This is not considered a serious decline and supports the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) ranking of Least Concern. In Minnesota, the story is a little different. The extent of occurrence (EOO) of this species in Minnesota has contracted significantly. The historical EOO shows the range to include all but the far southwestern corner of the state. The current EOO shows no occurrences south of a line from the north Metro area in the east to Breckenridge on the western border.



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)







boreal bumble bee

northern amber 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.’”



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 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

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Dan W. Andree

Bumble Bee on Purple Prairie Clover....

Taken at Sandpiper Prairie SNA rural Norman Co. Mn. July 20 2018.

  northern amber bumble bee  

Bill Reynolds

  northern amber bumble bee   northern amber bumble bee

There is a pretty good sized Bull Thistle patch near where I live that the bees and butterflies are working pretty hard.

  northern amber bumble bee    







  Northern Amber Bumble Bee
Andree Reno Sanborn
  Northern Amber Bumble Bee  

Bombus borealis





Visitor Videos

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Other Videos

  B. borealis
Joseph Napper

Published on Sep 11, 2015

The Northern Amber Bumble Bee

  Male B. borealis gets scared of passing cars, but not too scared.
Joseph Napper

Published on Aug 9, 2017

Male Bombus borealis, boreal bumble bee, rests.

  Male B. borealis showing its parts.
Joseph Napper

Published on Mar 17, 2018

bumble bee, bumblebee, Bombus,





Visitor Sightings

Report a sighting of this insect.

Dan W. Andree

Location: Sandpiper Prairie SNA rural Norman Co. Mn.

northern amber bumble bee

Bill Reynolds

Location: Pennington Co.

northern amber bumble bee

Bill Reynolds

Location: Pennington Co.

There is a pretty good sized Bull Thistle patch near where I live that the bees and butterflies are working pretty hard.

northern amber bumble bee







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