With the end of summer also comes the end of flowers and of the bumblebees that feed on their nectar and pollen. Bumblebees are colonial insects that live in small hives of fewer than a hundred individuals. There is a queen who lays eggs most of which are non-breeding females who tend to the needs of the larvae and collect food for the colony. Towards the end of summer male bees and fertile females are hatched. These will mate after which the males die.
Today there were many bumblebees feeding on the last of the late summer flowers. The goldenrods and most of the asters are done but there are huge patches of New England Aster (Aster novae–angliae) in full bloom planted around the house and these are covered by dozens of bumblebees all day long. I suppose all this activity is to gather food for the new queens and males if any are still in the larval state. It doesn’t seem that these bees are themselves queens as they are too small. Soon the new queens will have mated, the asters will die after a hard frost and with them the worker bees and the old queen. But the new queens will, it is hoped, find a safe shelter to wait out the winter under leaves and duff. When spring comes and the first willow flowers in the marshes and fens bloom the new bumblebee queens will awaken to start the cycle over again.