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A bumblebee (or bumble bee) is any member of the bee genus Bombus, in the family Apidae. There are over 250 known species, existing primarily in the Northern Hemisphere.
Bumblebees are social insects that are characterized by black and yellow body hairs, often in bands. However, some species have orange or red on their bodies, or may be entirely black. Another obvious (but not unique) characteristic is the soft nature of the hair (long, branched setae), called pile, that covers their entire body, making them appear and feel fuzzy. They are best distinguished from similarly large, fuzzy bees by the form of the female hind leg, which is modified to form a corbicula; a shiny concave surface that is bare, but surrounded by a fringe of hairs used to transport pollen (in similar bees, the hind leg is completely hairy, and pollen grains are wedged into the hairs for transport).
Bumblebees of the subgenus Psithyrus (known as cuckoo bumblebees, and formerly considered a separate genus) are a lineage which live parasitically in the colonies of other bumblebees and have lost the ability to collect pollen. Before finding and invading a host colony, a Psithyrus female (there is no caste system in these species) will feed directly from flowers. Once she has infiltrated a host colony, the Psithyrus female will kill or subdue the queen of that colony and forcibly (using pheromones and/or physical attacks) "enslave" the workers of that colony to feed her and her young. The female Psithyrus also has a number of morphological adaptations, such as larger mandibles and a larger venom sac that increase her chances of taking over a nest. Upon hatching, the male and female Psithyrus disperse and mate. Like non-parasitic bumblebee queens, female Psithyrus find suitable locations to spend the winter and enter diapause upon being mated.
Bumblebees are in danger in many developed countries due to habitat destruction and collateral pesticide damage. In Britain, until relatively recently, 19 species of native true bumblebee were recognised along with six species of cuckoo bumblebees. Of these, three have already become extinct, eight are in serious decline, and only six remain widespread. A decline in bumblebee numbers could cause large-scale sweeping changes to the countryside, leading to inadequate pollination of certain plants.
Colony collapse disorder (or CCD) is a phenomenon in which worker bees from a beehive or European honey bee colony abruptly disappear. While such disappearances have occurred throughout the history of apiculture, the term colony collapse disorder was first applied to a drastic rise in the number of disappearances of Western honey bee colonies in North America in late 2006. Colony collapse is economically significant because many agricultural crops worldwide are pollinated by bees.
Queen and worker bumblebees can sting, but unlike a honey bee's, a bumblebee's stinger lacks barbs -- so they can sting more than once. Bumblebee species are normally non-aggressive, but will sting in defense of their nest, or if harmed. Female cuckoo bumblebees will aggressively attack host colony members, and sting the host queen, but will ignore other animals (including humans) unless disturbed.
Like their relatives the honey bees, bumblebees feed on nectar and gather pollen to feed their young.
One common, yet incorrect, assumption is that the buzzing sound of bees is caused by the beating of their wings. The sound is actually the result of the bee vibrating its flight muscles, and this can be achieved while the muscles are decoupled from the wings—a feature known in bees but not other insects. This is especially pronounced in bumblebees, as they must warm up their bodies considerably to get airborne at low ambient temperatures. Bumblebees have been known to reach an internal thoracic temperature of 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit) using this method.
The distinctive buzz of a flying Bumblebee has inspired the orchestral interlude "Flight of the Bumblebee".