This autumn, I’ve seen numerous immobile bumblebees hanging upside down on flowers in the garden. At first I thought they were dead, or perhaps sick. But now I know they are male bumblebees, recuperating from all the wining and dining they do–ie, drinking nectar and trying to get lucky with new queen bees.
Once a male bumblebee leaves the colony, it doesn’t usually go back. It must feed itself and find somewhere to sleep–either in or on a flower. My garden doesn’t have too many big flowers left to crawl into, so the bees latch on to the smaller flowers (in the photos above: gaillardia, lavender, basil, and hyssop) and let gravity do its work. Because the body temperature of a bee matches its surroundings when it is at rest, it quickly becomes immobile in colder weather and has to wait for more sun to warm up again. It can also re-energize by drinking more nectar, but that is somewhat difficult to do when comatose. Luckily, bees warm up fairly quickly. That is a good thing since a male bumblebee’s #1 job is reproduction, and the chase requires lots of energy.
But what is the reward for all the male’s effort? Not much. Most male bumblebees don’t ever get a chance to mate, since it’s a very competitive world out there. And even if they do manage it, the one who benefits is the new queen. Once she has mated, she tucks in for the winter and hibernates underground, awaiting the moment next spring when she can start her own colony. The males (and the rest of the bees: the old queens, worker bees, etc.) do not survive the winter.