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Two stylized Bombus portraits.
Bumblebees displayed on a handy, downloadable wallet card from ARS bee experts include Bombus occidentalis (left), a Western U.S. species which has recently disappeared from much of its range, and B. huntii, a commonly seen, avid pollinator of many wildflowers in the Intermountain West. Click here to see all 11 stylized portraits. Adapted from an illustration provided courtesy of Linda Kervin.

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Bumblebee ID Simplified With Wallet Card

By Marcia Wood
January 28, 2008

Despite their colorful stripes and other distinctive markings, it's not easy to tell one species of bumblebee from another.

Agricultural Research Service (ARS) bee expert James Cane has helped make the differences among these plump, fuzzy pollinators a little simpler to detect. The wallet-size bumblebee identification card he has developed depicts 11 bumblebee species native to northern Utah and is intended for use by scientists, growers, beekeepers, conservationists, gardeners, hikers and others.

Cane is an entomologist with the ARS Pollinating Insect Biology, Management and Systematics Research Unit, Logan, Utah.

The card, along with instructions on how to use it, can be printed from:


Small, stylized diagrams show each bee's head, shoulders (or thorax) and abdomen, as seen from above. Arrayed side by side and row upon row, the simple drawings help the viewer distinguish differences in the color, shape, size and position of each bumblebee's markings.

Colors and designs formed by the bees' soft hairs vary from black, white or golden on the head; black circles or other geometric shapes on the thorax; and bands or stripes of at least two—and sometimes three—colors on the abdomen, from reddish-orange to gold, tan, black or white.

Bumblebees are hardworking pollinators, just like the familiar European honey bee, Apis mellifera. But colony collapse disorder and other tribulations have significantly reduced honey bee numbers, intensifying the search by Cane and others to find alternative pollinators of crop plants.

Right now, only one bumblebee species is used commercially in the United States as an agricultural pollinator, according to Cane and ARS entomologist Jamie Strange at Logan.

Bumblebees also pollinate native plants and thus help preserve an abundance and diversity of trees, shrubs, flowers and other vegetation in wildlands, parks and gardens.

Cane developed the schematics in collaboration with Linda Kervin, Logan; Robbin Thorp, Davis, Calif., and Matthew Shepherd, Portland, Ore.

ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.