half-black bumble bee

(Bombus vagans)

Conservation Status
half-black bumble bee
Photo by Bill Reynolds
  IUCN Red List

LC - Least Concern


N4? - Apparently Secure


not listed


Half-black bumble bee is a common, small, colonial, ground-nesting bumble bee.

The female (worker) bee is ¼ to long. The head, thorax, and abdomen are densely covered with relatively long hairs. The upperside of the thorax is mostly covered with yellow hairs except for a small, round, black, bare spot in the middle that is more or less fringed with short black hairs.

There are six abdominal segments. The first two are densely covered with yellow hairs. On segment 2 the yellow portion is occasionally narrowed slightly in the middle rear (apically) with black hairs. Segments 3 through 6 are entirely black.

The hairs on the head are mostly black but there is a dense tuft of yellowish hairs at the top (vertex). There are two large compound eyes, one on each side of the head; and three small simple eyes (ocelli) in a triangular pattern at the top of the head between the compound eyes. The middle ocellus is larger than the the two lateral ones. The top of the small (lateral) ocelli are on a virtual line (supraorbital line) with the top of the compound eyes. There are long black hairs and a few shorter pale hairs around the base of the antennae. The antennae have 12 segments. The first antenna segment is longer than the second or third, but shorter than the two combined. The space below the compound eye (malar space) corresponding to the cheek, is longer than wide. The hardened plate above the upper lip (clypeus) is smooth, shiny, and swollen. The tongue is medium-length.

The wings are lightly tinged with brown to dull brick red.

The legs are often reddish.

The queen is similar but larger.

The male (drone) is similar but has 7 abdominal segments and 13 antennae segments. Abdominal segments 3 through 7 are black but with evident yellow hairs at the margins.




Queen: 9 16 to ¾

Male: 7 16 to ½

Worker: ¼ to


Similar Species

  Sanderson’s bumble bee (Bombus sandersoni) hairs on the top of the head are black. The malar space is square, as wide as long. There are a few yellow hairs on the fifth abdominal segment. The black spot on the upper thorax may be absent or unclear.  

Shady forests, wooded areas, urban parks, wetlands, and gardens.




June to August




Bumble bees will sting to protect themselves or their nest. The stinger is not barbed and the bee can sting multiple times.


Life Cycle


Overwintering queens emerge from hibernation in May. They build nests mostly underground but sometimes on the surface of the ground or in hollow trees.


Larva Food


Larvae are fed both nectar for carbohydrates and pollen for protein.


Adult Food


Adults feed mostly on nectar but also on some pollen.


Distribution Map



7, 24, 27, 29, 30, 82.







Hymenoptera (ants, bees, wasps, and sawflies)  


Apocrita (narrow-waisted wasps, ants, and bees)  


Aculeata (ants, bees, and stinging wasps)  


Apoidea (bees and apoid wasps)  
  Epifamily Anthophila (bees)  


Apidae (honey bees, bumble bees, and allies)  


Apinae (apine bees)  


Bombini (bumble bees)  


Bombus (bumble bees)  
  Subgenus Pyrobombus  

In the not-too-distant past, bumble bees were often placed in the in the subfamily Bombinae, and sometimes in the family Bombidae. Today, both of these terms are considered taxonomically invalid, though they can still be found in use on the Web.




Bombus bolsteri

Bombus consimilis


Common Names


half-black bumble bee










On insects, a hardened plate on the face above the upper lip (labrum).


Malar space

In Hymenoptera, the space, equivalent to the cheek, between the bottom of the compound eye and the base of the mandible.



Simple eye; an eye with a single lens. Plural: ocelli.



Minnesota Bumble Bee Identification Guide

The University of MN Bee Lab has a free field identification guide to Minnesota bumble bees. It is indispensable for amateur naturalists or anyone wanting to identify the bumble bee in their photo. Click on the image below to download the guide.

Guide to MN Bumble Bees


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Wendy Everett

    half-black bumble bee      

Bill Reynolds


The Bull Thistle is alive with bees of all kinds!

    half-black bumble bee   half-black bumble bee  
MinnesotaSeasons.com Photos
    half-black bumble bee   half-black bumble bee  
    half-black bumble bee   half-black bumble bee  



  Half-black Bumble Bee (Bombus vagans)
Andree Reno Sanborn
  Half-black Bumble Bee (Bombus vagans)  



Visitor Videos

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Other Videos
  Bumble bees mating
Ernie Cooper

Published on Aug 22, 2013

Queen and drone half-black bumble bees (Bombus vagans) mating. They settled on the rug on the back deck of my house and continued for about an hour before suddenly flying away...




Visitor Sightings

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  Wendy Everett

Location: Red Wing, Minnesota

half-black bumble bee  
  Bill Reynolds

Location: Pennington MN

The Bull Thistle is alive with bees of all kinds!

half-black bumble bee  
MinnesotaSeasons.com Sightings




Created 9/9/2015

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