Bombus impatiens - Cresson, 1863
Common Eastern Bumble Bee
Synonym(s): Bombus (Pyrobombus) impatiens Cresson, 1863
Taxonomic Status: Accepted
Related ITIS Name(s): Bombus impatiens Cresson, 1863 (TSN 714812)
French Common Names: Bourdon fébrile
Unique Identifier: ELEMENT_GLOBAL.2.744950
Element Code: IIHYM24290
Informal Taxonomy: Animals, Invertebrates - Insects - Bumble Bees
Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family Genus
Animalia Mandibulata Insecta Hymenoptera Apidae Bombus
Check this box to expand all report sections:
Concept Reference
Concept Reference: Williams, P. H. 2008a. Bombus, bumblebees of the world. Web pages based on Williams, P.H. 1998. An annotated checklist of bumblebees with an analysis of patterns of description (Hymenoptera: Apidae, Bombini). Bulletin of the Natural History Museum (Entomology) 67:79-152. Online. Available: Accessed 2008-Oct.
Concept Reference Code: W08WIL01EHUS
Name Used in Concept Reference: Bombus (Pyrobombus) impatiens
Taxonomic Comments: Subgenus: Pyrobombus
Conservation Status

NatureServe Status

Global Status: G5
Global Status Last Reviewed: 20Jun2017
Global Status Last Changed: 09Dec2008
Ranking Methodology Used: Ranked by inspection
Rounded Global Status: G5 - Secure
Reasons: This and other bumblebees in its subgenus are apparently not among those experiencing recent declines in North America. B. impatiens is a significant crop pollinator and is somewhat domesticated. It is transported beyond its native range for crop pollination and probably has or will become established outside its native range. This species may benefit from the demise of some of the other bumblebees. For now this very common bee is assigned a conservation status rank of G5, despite some reluctance to apply that rank to any bumblebees until the exact causes for declines are better understood. All evidence suggests this species is unaffected by most of these causes, and it does very well in disturbed landscapes. For now, nearly all evidence indicates that this species is stable to increasing in its native range. Its status should be periodically updated, but among bumblebees this one is probably the big winner among changes in recent years.
Nation: United States
National Status: N5 (14Jun2010)
Nation: Canada
National Status: N5 (20Jun2017)

U.S. & Canada State/Province Status
Due to latency between updates made in state, provincial or other NatureServe Network databases and when they appear on NatureServe Explorer, for state or provincial information you may wish to contact the data steward in your jurisdiction to obtain the most current data. Please refer to our Distribution Data Sources to find contact information for your jurisdiction.
United States Alabama (SNR), Arkansas (SNR), California (SNA), Connecticut (SNR), Delaware (SNR), District of Columbia (SNR), Florida (SNR), Georgia (SNR), Illinois (SNR), Indiana (S5), Iowa (SNR), Kansas (SNR), Kentucky (SNR), Louisiana (SNR), Maine (S4S5), Maryland (SNR), Massachusetts (S5), Michigan (SNR), Minnesota (SNR), Mississippi (SNR), Missouri (SNR), Montana (SNA), Nebraska (SNR), New Hampshire (SNR), New Jersey (SNR), New Mexico (SNR), New York (S5), North Carolina (SNR), North Dakota (SNR), Ohio (SNR), Oklahoma (SNR), Pennsylvania (SNR), Rhode Island (SNR), South Carolina (SNR), South Dakota (SNR), Tennessee (SNR), Texas (SNR), Vermont (S5), Virginia (SNR), Washington (SNR), West Virginia (SNR), Wisconsin (S5)
Canada British Columbia (SNA), Manitoba (SNR), New Brunswick (S5), Newfoundland Island (SNA), Nova Scotia (S5), Ontario (S5), Prince Edward Island (SNA), Quebec (SNA), Saskatchewan (SNR)

Other Statuses

IUCN Red List Category: LC - Least concern

NatureServe Global Conservation Status Factors

Range Extent: >2,500,000 square km (greater than 1,000,000 square miles)
Range Extent Comments: The natural range is approximately Maine across southern Canada to the Dakotas and central Nebraska, south into Texas and Miami, Florida. The species has been introduced for pollination services in California and Mexico and will likely be permanently established.

Area of Occupancy: >12,500 4-km2 grid cells
Area of Occupancy Comments:  

Number of Occurrences: > 300
Number of Occurrences Comments: Very likely millions of colonies.

Population Size: Unknown

Number of Occurrences with Good Viability/Integrity: Very many (>125)

Overall Threat Impact: Low
Overall Threat Impact Comments: This species, and probably this subgenus, appears to be only mildly to sub-lethally affected by pathogens that are thought to be the main cause for the annihilation of subgenus Bombus in many places. In fact, B. impatiens reared in Europe and returned to North America for pollination services, were probably the source of the pathogen. In addition, the species adapts well to a variety of habitats, nectar sources, and climates.

Short-term Trend: Decline of <30% to increase of 25%
Short-term Trend Comments: Probably more or less stable overall, but Colla and Packer (2008) documented an increase in Ontario, while Michael Arbuster (pers. comm. to D. Schweitzer, September 5, 2008) noted that the species had been common through 2007 in Missouri but was scarce in 2008. This of course could just have been a natural locally bad year and no other reports of decline were found. Williams et al. (2009) also indicate a substantial increase in Ontario. This species is also now domesticated and (unfortunately perhaps) probably established where it is not native.

Long-term Trend: Relatively Stable to increase of >25%

Intrinsic Vulnerability: Not intrinsically vulnerable

Environmental Specificity: Broad. Generalist or community with all key requirements common.

Other NatureServe Conservation Status Information

Protection Needs: There may be a need to protect other species from harmful (such as competition) to catastrophic (such as pathogen spillover) impacts from this species by curtailing widespread introduction of Bombus impatiens beyond its native range.

Global Range: (>2,500,000 square km (greater than 1,000,000 square miles)) The natural range is approximately Maine across southern Canada to the Dakotas and central Nebraska, south into Texas and Miami, Florida. The species has been introduced for pollination services in California and Mexico and will likely be permanently established.

U.S. States and Canadian Provinces

Due to latency between updates made in state, provincial or other NatureServe Network databases and when they appear on NatureServe Explorer, for state or provincial information you may wish to contact the data steward in your jurisdiction to obtain the most current data. Please refer to our Distribution Data Sources to find contact information for your jurisdiction.
Color legend for Distribution Map
Endemism: occurs (regularly, as a native taxon) in multiple nations

U.S. & Canada State/Province Distribution
United States AL, AR, CAexotic, CT, DC, DE, FL, GA, IA, IL, IN, KS, KY, LA, MA, MD, ME, MI, MN, MO, MS, MT, NC, ND, NE, NH, NJ, NM, NY, OH, OK, PA, RI, SC, SD, TN, TX, VA, VT, WA, WI, WV
Canada BCexotic, MB, NB, NF, NS, ON, PEexotic, QCexotic, SK

Range Map
No map available.

U.S. Distribution by County Help
State County Name (FIPS Code)
OK Cimarron (40025)*, Cleveland (40027), Harper (40059)*, Le Flore (40079)*, Marshall (40095), McCurtain (40089), Oklahoma (40109), Payne (40119)*
* Extirpated/possibly extirpated
U.S. Distribution by Watershed Help
Watershed Region Help Watershed Name (Watershed Code)
11 Cimarron headwaters (11040001)+*, Lower Cimarron-Eagle Chief (11050001)+*, Lower Cimarron (11050003)+*, Lower Canadian-Walnut (11090202)+, Little (11090203)+, Lower North Canadian (11100302)+, Deep Fork (11100303)+, Poteau (11110105)+*, Lake Texoma (11130210)+, Mountain Fork (11140108)+
+ Natural heritage record(s) exist for this watershed
* Extirpated/possibly extirpated
Ecology & Life History
Habitat Type: Terrestrial
Non-Migrant: Y
Locally Migrant: N
Long Distance Migrant: N
Habitat Comments: Found in a variety of habitats including woodland, grassland, farmland, wetlands, urban parks and gardens (Williams et al. 2014).
Economic Attributes
Economic Comments: This species has been domesticated and mass-produced as a crop pollinator, particularly for large-scale tomato and sweet pepper greenhouses, beginning in the early 1990s (Colla et al. 2006, Otterstatter and Thomson 2008).  It is transported beyond its native range for crop pollination, including into California and Mexico.
Management Summary
Stewardship Overview: The following is a summary of the management and conservation needs for the genus Bombus. There is a lot of literature on the decline of bumblebees and other pollinators (e.g. Goulson et al. 2005, Brown and Paxton 2009, Evans et al. 2008, and the Committee on the Status of Pollinators in North America 2007). Byrne and Fitzpatrick (2009) review pollinator conservation programs at national, regional, and global levels. DeVore (2009) offers many practical considerations for pollinator conservation in the U.S. Noordijk et al.'s (2009) discussion of mowing in Europe should be generally applicable in North America, especially northern portions. Goulson et al. (2005), among others, make more general recommendations.

It is generally agreed that declines, and in some regions extirpations, of bumblebees and other pollinators in Europe have been due primarily to habitat loss or alteration, including changes in forage plant availability (due especially to intensification of agriculture). In turn, some plants have declined due to loss of pollinators. Brown and Paxton (2009), based in the United Kingdom, suggest that future conservation strategies need to "prioritise (i) minimising habitat loss, (ii) making agricultural habitats bee-friendly, (iii) training scientists and the public in bee taxonomy and identification, (iv) basic autecological and population genetic studies to underpin conservation strategies, (v) assessing the value of DNA barcoding for bee conservation, (vi) determining the impact of invasive plants, animals, parasites and pathogens, and (vii) integrating this information to understand the potential impact of climate change on current bee diversity." Some needs may be different in the U.S. In particular, climate change is probably less of a concern, whereas parasites and diseases are of much greater immediate concern.

Williams et al. (2009) examine various hypotheses from the literature as related to the status of bumble bees in North America, Europe and China, including competition with congeners, climatic specialization, proximity to climatic range edge, food specialization, phenology, body size, and range size. Food specialization would be in part an index of habitat specialization, but possible special needs for overwintering or nesting sites are not addressed. Results of their meta-analysis of correlations showed support for the hypotheses that decline susceptibility is generally greater for species that have greater climatic specialization, in areas where species occur closest to the edges of their climatic ranges, and for species that have queens that become active relatively late in the year. At least on a multi-continent scale the other factors apparently do not widely explain bumblebee declines. Notably most North American bumble bees range through more than ten degrees of latitude and thus have adapted to a wide array of climates at least in terms of temperature, and some range from coast to coast, which requires adaptation to a wide array of precipitation regimens and habitat types as well. While climate change could impact bumble bees positively or negatively at the edges of their ranges, this is not a plausible explanation for range-wide declines of widespread species.

Williams et al. (2009) suggest that late queen phenology may render a species at a particular disadvantage when they have long colony cycles if there are losses of food plants in mid to late colony development. Among declining species in the Grixti et al. (2009) tabulation (see also Colla and Packer, 2008) two are early, one is intermediate, and two are late; the ratio is nearly the same for non-declining species six are early, one is intermediate and three are late, and late species are not over-represented among declining species (chi2=0.6, df=2, p=0.95). In contrast B. affinis, which is undergoing extreme decline and may be on the brink of extinction, has early queen phenology, as does B. terricola which is also in severe decline. Their phenologies should make them among the least at risk. Phenology is not driving the extremely rapid declines of these species. The meta-analysis of Williams et al. (2009) also does not support any relationship between declines and tongue length as some earlier studies suggested--long tongues generally indicate more specialized foragers. The data in Grixti et al. (2009) are consistent with this finding: among declining species two have short tongues, one is intermediate and two have long tongues while among non-declining species four have short tongues, four are intermediate and two have long tongues, again nearly identical (chi2=0.9, df=2, p=0.885). Some other factor, almost certainly diseases and parasites (Colla et al., 2006, Otterstatter and Thomson, 2008; Federman, 2009), is largely overriding phenology, tongue length (foraging ecology) and other life history traits that may be important determinants of risk in other countries leading to very rapid declines. Nevertheless managers should be aware of these ecological traits that may predispose species to future declines, or may be driving slower current declines. Practical implications include a need for legumes and other flowers favored by long-tongued species and for a reliable supply of flowers late in the season.

Habitat fragmentation can also be important in bumblebee ecology (Hines and Hendrix 2005). A study by Bhattacharya et al. (2003) near Boston documented that foraging bumble bees (Bombus impatiens, B. affinis) have high site fidelity and flower constancy, and are reluctant to cross roads and railroads compared to more natural habitats. If the flower supply runs out they are more likely to locate another on the same side of a road rather than to cross it. Thus like many animals, bumblebees should benefit from reducing the number of roads, and the amount of other highly unnatural habitats, such as lawns, in and near natural areas.

Bumble bees have three critical sets of ecological needs: suitable overwintering places for the queens, suitable nesting microhabitats, and adequate flowers for foraging throughout the length of the colony cycle. This cycle is several months, typically mid spring to mid or late summer. Little information was found regarding hibernation sites, and information on nesting sites is usually rather general, except that Carvell (2002) discusses the nesting habits of the subgenus Thoracobombus. These are known in England as carder bees and they "nest on the ground surface and comb together material from around the nest as a covering" and "therefore require moss and dried grasses, often in the form of disused small mammal nests... hence the importance of undisturbed tall grassland with sufficient sunlight providing warmth to the surface nest." Most other bumblebees nest below ground in pre-existing cavities. Bombus impatiens will also use a variety of man-made situations such as under houses or old rodent nests in cardboard boxes, etc. (D. Schweitzer, pers. obs in New Jersey). Plath (1922, 1927) provides detailed observations of the nesting habits of North American bumble bees, including the now seriously imperiled B. (Bombus) affinis, the nests of which he observed to be solely subterranean. Prior to its decline, B. affinis had adapted well to urban areas and was observed nesting in the concrete rubble beside the foundation of buildings (Super and Moyer, 2003). Queen bumblebees probably usually hibernate in the leaf litter near the soil surface or perhaps underground.

Other than plowing (Hopwood, 2008, DeVore 2009), most common management activities should not directly affect underground nests. However bumblebees above ground in grasses would be vulnerable to fires, and to mowing if the blade is low enough to destroy them. Hibernating queens could be very vulnerable to prescribed burns if they are above ground in dry microhabitats. However, this might not affect the population in situations where nest sites are limiting such that many queens fail to establish colonies. Prescribed burning or any other management scheme potentially can have two sets of impacts, and the latter could be positive or negative: direct mortality to the pollinators and changes in vegetation composition and structure. Prescribed burning would likely render an area unsuitable for Bombus (Thoracobombus) for at least one season due to removal of nesting microhabitats (see Carvell, 2002). Much more information is needed regarding impacts of common management practices, perhaps especially fire, on bumblebees. In general maintaining healthy rodent populations in habitats where bumblebees nest should improve availability of nest sites. Besides providing habitat and cover for native rodents, elimination of free-roaming cats could be beneficial. In addition to a likely reduction in small rodents overall, high cat numbers may lead to an increased ratio of the non-native house mouse (Mus musculus) over native mice (Peromyscus spp.) (Hawkins, 1998, as cited by Longcore et al., 2009). It is not clear whether the species mix of small rodents has much affect on the availability of bumblebee nest sites. Besides old rodent holes and grass clumps, logs may provide useful nesting sites.

Most management activities involving bumblebees will be aimed at improving flower availability. Bumblebees depend on both nectar, mainly for carbohydrates, and pollen, for protein. A queen bumblebee needs nectar when she leaves hibernation, and for another month or more while she alone rears the first brood of workers. After that, workers need access to nectar and pollen for several months. Bumblebees will travel several kilometers. For example Schmidt and Jacobson (2005) note that B. pensylvanicus sonorus commonly flies to high elevations from desert nesting sites much lower, the vertical distance alone is often over a kilometer. Devore (2009) considers a mile (1.7 km) as about the typical distance over which bumblebees forage. Citing several studies (e.g. Dramstad, 1996), Hines and Hendrix (2005) state that bumble bees routinely forage up to 600-650 m from their nests. While some bumble bees are more generalized in their preferences than others, none are thought to be highly specialized in their foraging needs. Carvell (2002) found that the more common species in her study areas in England used between about nine and 15 plant species over the course of her study. Hines and Hendrix (2005) observed bumblebees foraging on 43 of 150 species of flowers monitored in Iowa prairie remnants. Bumblebee species with longer tongues tend to visit legumes and other plants with long corollas. Feeding is most efficient if the length of the tongue and corolla are similar. Thus habitats with a greater diversity of plants with varying corolla lengths can be expected to have a richer bumblebee fauna than less diverse communities.

Carvell (2002) in England found that "Numbers of both long- and short-tongued bumblebee species, abundance of all bumblebees and species richness per quadrat were significantly positively correlated with abundance of P[ilosella] officinarum and T[rifolium] pratense (red clover), total flower abundance, flowering plant species richness and continuity of bee-exploited species (the last excepting long-tongued bumblebee species)." Habitats most likely to have these features are generally open with simple vegetation structure and little moss or thatch cover. Gardens, even those in urban areas (Wojcik et al. 2008, Fetridge et al. 2008), can be useful foraging resources for bumblebees, as can croplands (e.g. Turnock et al. 2007) if they are not sprayed with insecticides during the flowering period. Hay fields with abundant red clover or alfalfa can be major foraging habitats. Roadsides with restored native prairie vegetation can also be very beneficial (Hopwood, 2008). Prairies, moist meadows, and restored roadsides with native flowers probably are among the most productive bumblebee foraging habitats. Tuell et al. (2008) provides many records of bees, including bumble bees, at native wild flowers in Michigan. Many other studies provide useful information about species of flowers visited by bumblebees (e.g. Hopwood, 2008, US fish and Wildlife Service, 1999, 2008, DeVore, 2009). Evans et al. (2008) provide summaries of plants known to be visited by three seriously declining or imperiled species of subgenus Bombus. Hopwood (2008) documents that in Kansas, roadsides restored to native prairie vegetation supported richer bee faunas than weedy roadsides or even local prairie remnants. Similarly Noordijk et al. (2009) discuss roadsides as important habitats for pollinators, including bumblebees, in northern Europe, and discuss the suitability of various mowing regimens. For Bombus species Hopwood had 37 observations of seven species on restored roadsides versus 10 representing two species on weedy controls. She concluded that infrequently mowed roadsides with diverse native flora actually make good native bee habitat because such places are not plowed, and thus are good nesting [and probably hibernating] habitats, and unlikely to be developed for other uses. She suggests roadsides could be important to pollinator management in much of the world.

The recommendations of DeVore (2009), which are specifically for heavily agricultural southern Minnesota and for bees in general, would apply to bumblebees almost anywhere in eastern and central North America. The following quote provides guidance for making farms and other landscape pollinator-friendly not just of bumblebees, but for bees in general: "Native wildflowers can provide excellent foraging for pollinators. So can cover crops that are allowed to flower. Reducing tillage causes less disruption of nesting habitat, because two-thirds of bees nest underground. Leaving logs, stumps, snags, and clumps of grass will provide nesting sites for the rest. Fencerows with willow, dogwood, or other flowering plants provide foraging habitat on working farmland without disrupting the agronomic productivity... Roadsides, ditches, and buffer strips can also serve as wild pollinator habitat." In some cases the pollination service will have significant economic benefits. Even narrow strips of buffer land can have important impacts on bees (Hopwood, 2008, DeVore, 2009). While suburban and urban gardens do provide nutrition (but sometimes also toxic pesticides) to wild bees (Frankie et al., 2009, McFrederick and LeBuhn, 2006), manicured lawns are among the least useful nesting and foraging habitats. DeVore also points out that protection from insecticides may be needed and that several studies find low levels of many pesticides in hives, brought in by workers on contaminated pollen. While levels are usually sublethal there may still be impacts to hive success. Recent articles (e.g. Colla and Packer, 2008) have suggested persistent neonicotinoid insecticides might be particularly hazardous to bees, but so far these have not been directly linked to major local declines.

On more natural lands, management would likely focus on maintaining diverse assemblages of primarily native flora, such that flowers would be constantly available throughout the active season, typically about April to September in many places. In some areas several different habitats would be needed to fulfill this need. To the extent practical, productive foraging sites should not be mowed during the flowering season, although in most contexts foraging workers will probably locate alternative flowers. Noordijk et al. (2009) found that while mowing virtually eliminates nectar for a period of days or longer afterward, summer mowing often stimulates re-flowering that benefits the bees later in the season. Also growing season mowing could be highly detrimental to other taxa of conservation concern, such as Lepidoptera larvae that could be killed directly--in some cases an entire population. Carvell (2002) found cattle grazing to be an effective management tool in England.

Regardless of the suitability of habitat management on a local scale, the surrounding landscape context will affect bumblebee communities. Hines and Hendrix (2005) found that variation in the availability of floral resources, especially as determined by the extent of land in grassland, in the surrounding 500-700 meter radius around prairie remnants explained most difference in the bumblebee community in prairie remnants, with the abundance of suitable flowers on site also being important. Landscape context is also likely to be important in terms of suitable nesting and hibernation sites, since these habitats may not be the same as foraging areas (e.g. Carvell, 2002). Thus small scraps of habitat may be poorly suited for bumblebee conservation even if the flora is relatively pristine. Ideally management aimed at conserving local bumblebees should be tailored to the needs of the local fauna, but in general unplowed, open, diverse, flowery habitats will be the goal. In most places such habitat will need active management--the exact nature of which may be determined by factors unrelated to bumblebees. Some degree of connectivity to other suitable habitats may be necessary, which is one reason roadside, power lines, and other long corridors may be quite suitable. See Russell et al. (2005) for a useful discussion of power line management as it relates to bees.

While habitat changes, especially a large-scale decline in foraging plants in some regions such as highly agricultural parts of the Midwest, have undoubtedly impacted North American bumblebees, these do not appear to be driving declines to anywhere near the extent they are in Great Britain. There is little that can be done to address what appears to be the greatest conservation need of the most imperiled North American bumble bees: protection from Nosema, Cirthidia, and other (mostly non-native) pathogens and parasites. For the most severely impacted species, Bombus affinis, B. franklini, and other species of subgenus Bombus, unless these can be mitigated in the near future or the species evolve some resistance, any conservation efforts are likely to be moot. Nosema could not be effectively managed in commercial hives of the closely related B. occidentalis and catastrophic outbreaks lead directly to the discontinuation of commercial use of that species. There is even less that can be done to protect wild bumble bees, and evolution of natural resistance may be needed for some species to persist in major portions, or all, of their ranges, although hypothetically the same result could be accomplished by genetic engineering. About the only suggestion now is to try to minimize contact between wild bumblebees and green house bees, especially of the same subgenus. Wild bees from near green house colonies tend to have higher infection rates than more distant ones (Colla et al., 2006). Several authors have pointed out the need for tight restrictions on the importation of bumblebees, whether of native or non-native species, that have been reared outside of North America.

Population/Occurrence Delineation Not yet assessed
Population/Occurrence Viability
U.S. Invasive Species Impact Rank (I-Rank) Not yet assessed
NatureServe Conservation Status Factors Edition Date: 21Sep2009
NatureServe Conservation Status Factors Author: Schweitzer, D.F. ; Capuano, N.A.
Management Information Edition Date: 29Sep2009
Management Information Edition Author: Schweitzer, D. F. and N. A. Capuano

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