|This bumblebee is diving right in. |
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A bumblebee is any member of the bee genus Bombus, in the family Apidae. There are over 250 known species, existing primarily in the Northern Hemisphere although they also occur in South America. They have been introduced to New Zealand and the Australian state of Tasmania.
Bumblebees are social insects that are characterised 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).
Like their relatives the honey bees, bumblebees feed on nectar and gather pollen to feed their young.
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 been extirpated, eight are in serious decline, and only six remain widespread. Similar declines in bumblebees have been reported in Ireland, with 4 species being designated endangered, and another two species considered vulnerable to extinction. A decline in bumblebee numbers could cause large-scale changes to the countryside, resulting from inadequate pollination of certain plants. The world's first bumblebee sanctuary was established at Vane Farm in the Loch Leven National Nature Reserve in Scotland in 2008.
Some bumblebees native to North America are also vanishing, such as Bombus terricola, Bombus affinis and Bombus occidentalis, with one, Bombus franklini, that may even be extinct.
In 2011, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature set up the Bumblebee Specialist Group to review the threat status of all bumblebee species worldwide using the IUCN Red List criteria.