Bombus perplexus — Confusing bumble bee

photo of Worker on bull thistle (<em>Cirsium vulgare</em>)
Worker on bull thistle (Cirsium vulgare) — Jay Watson
The confusing bumble bee is considered common in the northeastern U.S. and appears to be stable (Hatfield et al. 2014). Wisconsin is toward the edges of its range and was probably never common. Wisconsin has a few current records from Dane, Door, Pepin, and Waupaca Counties.
The Fernald cuckoo (B. flavidus) is a likely nest parasite of the confusing bumble bee (Williams et al. 2014). The Fernald cuckoo has not been documented in Wisconsin since 1969.
The confusing bumble bee, like other bumble bees, live in colonies composed of a single queen and female workers. Colonies start to produce new queens and males in the mid- to late summer. Only new, mated queens overwinter, emerging from diapause (a form of hibernation) in the spring. New queens are responsible for finding a new nest site, laying eggs, and for all of the foraging and care of the colony until the first workers emerge (Hatfield et al. 2014). Once the first workers emerge, the queen remains in the colony laying eggs. Bumble bees need areas that provide nectar and pollen from flowers throughout the duration of the colony life cycle, and suitable sites for nesting and for overwintering queens.

Status-Global/State:

Global: G5     Wisconsin: S1    

image showing reference locations of body parts

Identification:

  • Worker – Face with black or intermixed hairs and yellow vertex. Thorax usually all yellow between the wingpads and often black below the wingpads on the sides. Abdominal segments T1-2 yellow, and T3-5 and T6 black. Some morphs are all yellow or yellow in the center of T3 and have white/light colored fringe on T5-6.
  • Queen/gyne – Similar to workers including the variability in color patterns. Queens/gynes are larger than workers and appear earlier in the season.
  • Male – Face yellow or intermixed and vertex yellow. Thorax usually all yellow . Abdominal segment T1-3, and T4-T7 black. Some morphs have a completely yellow abdomen, some are yellow T1-2 only, and some are intermixed or have fringe on T4 and on T7.
  • Other distinguishing features – Hair long and often amber yellow colored. Difficult to distinguish females from half-black bumble bee (B. vagans) and Sanderson's bumble bee (B. sandersoni).

Similar Wisconsin Species:

Similar bumble bee species in Wisconsin are twospotted bumble bee (B. bimaculatus), common eastern bumble bee (B. impatiens), Sanderson's bumble bee (B. sandersoni), and half-black bumble bee (B. vagans) (Colla et al. 2011, Williams et al. 2014).

Counties with verified B3 observations (in green).

Description of Habitat/Range:

Known habitats include wooded areas, urban parks, gardens, and wetlands (Williams et al. 2014). Nests have been mostly found underground (Colla et al. 2011, Williams et al. 2014).

Nectar Plants

The confusing bumble bee is a medium-tongued species (Williams et al. 2014). Nectar plants include Campanula, Cirsium (thistles), Hydrangea, Lonicera (honeysuckles), Melilotus (sweet clover), Penstemon, Pontederia, Prunus (plums/cherries), Ribes (gooseberry/currants), Rhododendron, Rubus (blackberry), Tilia, and Vaccinium (blueberry) (Williams et al. 2014, Colla et al. 2011).

Click on the legend symbols for each type of bumble bee to add or remove them from the graph.
Data from verified B3 observations [updated 6/15/2020].

Flight Season:

In Wisconsin, the few records are mostly from July and August. Rangewide, queens start emerging in April and enter diapause by September (Colla et al. 2011).

Literature Cited:

Colla, S., Richardson, L. and Williams, P. (2011) Bumble Bees of the Eastern United States. A product of the USDA Forest Service and the Pollinator Partnership with funding from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

Williams, P.H., Thorp, R.W., Richardson, L.L. and Colla, S.R. (2014) The Bumble bees of North America: An Identification guide. Princeton University Press, Princeton.

Hatfield, R., Jepsen, S., Thorp, R., Richardson, L. & Colla, S. 2014. Bombus perplexus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2014: e.T44937925A69005102.

photo of Worker on bull thistle (<em>Cirsium vulgare</em>)
Worker on bull thistle (Cirsium vulgare) — Jay Watson
photo of Body diagram: female
Body diagram: female — Elaine Evans
photo of Body diagram: male
Body diagram: male — Elaine Evans
photo of Worker on bull thistle (<em>Cirsium vulgare</em>)
Worker on bull thistle (Cirsium vulgare) — Jay Watson
photo of Worker on bull thistle (<em>Cirsium vulgare</em>)
Worker on bull thistle (Cirsium vulgare) — Jay Watson
photo of Gyne on wild bergamot (<em>Monarda fistulosa</em>)
Gyne on wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa) — Jay Watson
photo of Gyne on wild bergamot (<em>Monarda fistulosa</em>)
Gyne on wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa) — Jay Watson
photo of Gyne on wild bergamot (<em>Monarda fistulosa</em>)
Gyne on wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa) — Jay Watson
photo of Male on tall bellflower (<em>Campanula americana</em>)
Male on tall bellflower (Campanula americana) — Adrian Konell
photo of Male on tall bellflower (<em>Campanula americana</em>)
Male on tall bellflower (Campanula americana) — Adrian Konell
photo of Male on tall bellflower (<em>Campanula americana</em>)
Male on tall bellflower (Campanula americana) — Adrian Konell
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