Northern Amber Bumble Bee

Bombus borealis Kirby, 1837


Leif Richardson

Class
Insecta (Insects)
Family
Apidae (Triepeolus)
State Protection
Not Listed
Not listed or protected by New York State.
Federal Protection
Not Listed
State Conservation Status Rank
S3
Vulnerable in New York - Vulnerable to disappearing from New York due to rarity or other factors (but not currently imperiled); typically 21 to 80 populations or locations in New York, few individuals, restricted range, few remaining acres (or miles of stream), and/or recent and widespread declines.
Global Conservation Status Rank
G4G5
Apparently or Demonstrably Secure globally - Uncommon to common in the world, but not rare; usually widespread, but may be rare in some parts of its range; possibly some cause for long-term concern due to declines or other factors. More information is needed to assign either G4 or G5.

Summary

Did you know?

If you are passionate about conserving these beneficial insects, you can get involved with groups such as Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation and Bumble Bee Watch. You can help on your own property by planting native flowers rich in pollen and nectar and by supporting organic gardening practices (Williams et al. 2014.)

State Ranking Justification

The Northern Amber Bumble Bee has populations in northern, eastern, central, and western NY that have remained relatively stable over time, but remains absent from southern NY (White et al. 2022). This sub-genus (Subterraneobombus) does not appear to have experienced high susceptibility to the protozoan N. bombi, a pathogen attributed to playing a large role in the decline of Bombus and Thoracobombus sub-genera. However, the species remains threatened by habitat loss, pesticides, and urbanization (Schweitzer et al. 2012) as well as pollution and invasive species.

Short-term Trends

The short-term trends for this species are unknown.

Long-term Trends

Based on data from the Empire State Native Pollinator Survey, the current (2000 to present) and historical (1999 and earlier) distribution in NY has remained relatively stable. While there appear to be three counties no longer occupied that were historically, there are also several new county records in recent years (White et al. 2022).

Conservation and Management

Threats

Threats to Bombus borealis include habitat loss, pesticides, and urbanization (Schweitzer et al. 2012) as well as pollution and invasive species. This sub-genus (Subterraneobombus) does not appear to have experienced high susceptibility to the protozoan N. bombi, a pathogen attributed to playing a large role in the decline of Bombus and Thoracobombus sub-genera.

Conservation Strategies and Management Practices

Any efforts to protect wild bumble bee populations from pathogen exposure would benefit Northern Amber Bumble Bees. Suggested actions would include using mesh to prevent escape of bees from commercial breeding greenhouses, proper disposal of commercial bees, sanitation in greenhouses, and development of molecular screening. Tight restrictions on importing bumble bees and elimination of parasites from commercial populations has been suggested as ideal (Meeus et al. 2011, Schweitzer et al. 2012).

Minimal to no exposure of Northern Amber Bumble Bees to insecticides would also benefit them. Suggested actions include avoidance of application to flowers that bumble bees are attracted to and application of solutions or soluble powders (rather than dusts or wettable powders) to the ground in calm wind and warmer temperatures during periods of dewless nights to minimize the impact to resident bumble bee populations (Schweitzer et al. 2012). Organic farming has also been suggested to benefit bumble bees.

Research Needs

Further research is needed to determine more information on habitat requirements, threats, climate change effects, and insecticide effects for Northern Amber Bumble Bees.

Habitat

Habitat

Bumble bees are generalist foragers and need nesting habitat in the spring, flowers for adult and larval nutrition throughout the spring and summer, and sites for queens to overwinter. This bumble bee nests underground (Colla et al. 2011), often using abandoned rodent nests underground in south facing exposures. Foraging habitat should include flower abundance and species richness with overlapping blooms to ensure nectar availability throughout the growing season (Schweitzer et al. 2012). Select food plants for B. borealis include vetches, thistles, asters, Prunella, Eupatorium, and Symphytum officinale (Colla et al. 2011). Suitable sites for bumble bees to overwinter may include rotting logs, mulch, or loose soil (Schweitzer et al. 2012).

Range

New York State Distribution

The Northern Amber Bumble Bee has confirmed populations in northern, eastern, central, and western NY. Except for historical records from Rockland County, it appears to be absent from the southern portion of the state (White et al. 2022).

Global Distribution

The Northern Amber Bumble Bee range includes the Canadian maritimes west to Alberta and in the northeastern U.S. from Maine west to Idaho and some southern states including Georgia (NatureServe 2023).

Best Places to See

  • Shindagin Hollow State Forest (Tompkins County)

Identification Comments

Identifying Characteristics

Northern Amber Bumble Bee queens and workers have a yellow face and yellow hair on the thorax, except for the lower sides, which are black, and a black band between the wing bases. Abdominal segments one through four are yellow and segment five can be black or yellow. Males have similar coloration to females, with black hair on the last three abdominal segments, present in varying degrees (Colla et al. 2011).

Best Time to See

Bumble bee queens hibernate over the winter, emerge in the spring, locate a nest site, and rear young (workers, males, and new queens). After new queens and males mate, all males, workers, and old queens die by the beginning of winter and new queens settle into sites to overwinter (Schweitzer et al. 2012).

  • Active
  • Reproducing

The time of year you would expect to find Northern Amber Bumble Bee active and reproducing in New York.

Similar Species

  • Yellow Bumble Bee (Bombus fervidus) (guide)
    Yellow Bumble Vee queens and workers have black faces rather than a yellow face on B. borealis. Abdominal segments one through four are yellow on both species, but segment five and six are black for B. fervidus. Segment five may be black or yellow for B. borealis (Colla et al. 2011).

Northern Amber Bumble Bee Images

Taxonomy

Northern Amber Bumble Bee
Bombus borealis Kirby, 1837

  • Kingdom Animalia
    • Phylum Arthropoda (Mandibulates)
      • Class Insecta (Insects)
        • Order Hymenoptera (Bees, Wasps, Ants, Sawflies)
          • Family Apidae (Triepeolus)

Additional Resources

References

Bachman, S., J. Moat, A. Hill, J. de la Torre, and B. Scott. 2011. Supporting red list threat assessments with GeoCAT: geospatial conservation assessment tool. In: Smith, V. and L. Penev (Eds) e-Infrastructures for data publishing in biodiversity science. ZooKeys 150: 117-126. (Version BETA). Available online at: https://www.kew.org/science/our-science/projects/geocat-geospatial-conservation-assessment-tool.

Cameron, S.A., J.D. Lozier, J.P. Strange, J.B. Koch, N. Cordes, L.F. Solter, and T.L. Griswold. 2011. Patterns of widespread decline in North American bumble bees. PNAS. 108 (2): 662-667.

Colla, S., L. Richardson, and P. Williams. 2011. Bumble bees of the eastern United States.

Meeus, I., Brown, M.J.F., DeGraaf, D.C., and G. Smagghe. 2011. Effects of invasive parasites on bumble bee declines. Conservation Biology 25(4): 662-671.

NatureServe. 2023. NatureServe Network Biodiversity Location Data accessed through NatureServe Explorer [web application]. NatureServe, Arlington, Virginia. Available https://explorer.natureserve.org/.

New York Natural Heritage Program. 2024. New York Natural Heritage Program Databases. Albany, NY.

Richardson, L. 2013. Compilation of specimen records for Bombus species of North America from the American Museum of Natural History, Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology, among several other museums. Unpublished data.

Schweitzer, D. and N. Sears. May 1, 2013. Bumble bee ranking guidelines. NatureServe, Arlington, VA.

Schweitzer, D.F., N.A. Capuano, B.E. Young and S.R. Colla. 2012. Conservation and management of North American bumble bees. NatureServe, Arlington, Virginia, and USDA Forest Service, Washington, D.C. 17 pp.

Vermont Center for Ecostudies. 2013. Vermont Bumblebee Survey Summary. VES News, the Newsletter of the Vermont Entomological Society, Number 78, Winter 2013, Page 5. Online. Available: www.vermontinsects.org/newsletter.html.

White, Erin L., Matthew D. Schlesinger, and Timothy G. Howard. 2022. The Empire State Native Pollinator Survey (2017-2021). New York Natural Heritage Program. Albany, NY.

Williams, P.H., R.W. Thorp, L.L. Richardson, and S.R. Colla. 2014b. Bumble bees of North America: an Identification Guide. Princeton University Press. 208 pp.

Yanega, D. 2013. Compilation of specimen records for Bombus species of North America from the University of California Riverside Entomology Research Museum, the Essig Museum of Entomology, University of California Berkeley, the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County and the California State Collection of Arthropods. Unpublished data.

Links

About This Guide

This guide was authored by: Erin L. White

Information for this guide was last updated on: September 19, 2023

Please cite this page as:
New York Natural Heritage Program. 2024. Online Conservation Guide for Bombus borealis. Available from: https://guides.nynhp.org/northern-amber-bumble-bee/. Accessed May 26, 2024.