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How to Identify a Bumblebee

An Australian Native Bee Research Centre Update

Related articles:
Help stop the importation of European bumblebees!
What harm could exotic bumblebees do in Australia?
How far could feral bumblebees spread in Australia?

Bumblebees and invasive weeds
The native bee alternative to the bumblebee
Have you seen a bumblebee on the Australian mainland?

Please help us keep exotic bumblebees out of mainland Australia! Be on the lookout for bumblebees (described below) and report any sightings to local authorities.

Photos and Descriptions of Bumblebee (Bombus terrestis) and Australian Native Bees

The bumblebee species which is most likely to slip through our Australian quarantine defences is Bombus terrestris because a feral population of this species is already found in Tasmania. Several Australian native bee species could be confused with Bombus terrestris. The following information will help you identify this bumblebee and distinguish it from our native bee species.


Bombus terrestris bumble bees are large, fat and very hairy. Worker bees may be 8 mm to 22 mm in length while queen bees are up to about 25 mm. They make a loud buzzing sound when they fly. They are black with one yellow/ochre band across the thorax and another across the abdomen. The tip of the abdomen is also buff or white.
(Photo by Dr Michael Batley)

Great Carpenter Bee
Great Carpenter Bee

Great carpenter bee females (Xylocopa aruana) are 13–18 mm long with a bright yellow thorax and a black abdomen. Unlike the bumble bee, the abdomen of the female carpenter bee is shiny and hairless. Male carpenter bees are about the same size but are completely covered with yellow brown or dull olive hair.
(Photo by ANBRC)

Teddy Bear Bee
Teddy Bear Bee

The teddy bear bee (Amegilla bombiformis) is 13–18 mm long and completely covered with ochre fur except for one narrow black stripe on the abdomen.
(Photo by Dr Michael Batley)

Blue Banded Bee
Blue Banded Bee

The blue banded bee (Amegilla sp.) is 10–14 mm long with reddish brown fur on the thorax and pale blue stripes across the black abdomen.
(Photo by Dr Michael Batley)

Bumblebee Nests

Bumblebee nests are usually about 10 cm under the soil surface. Nests have been found in:
- old rodent nests (inside sheds or outdoors)
- compost heaps
- piles of leaf litter or grass clippings
- woodpiles
- old stuffed chairs or sofas
- covered drains
- cavities underneath concrete paths or houses

A thriving colony may have a queen and 200 to 300 workers. The nests are usually in a small cavity containing fine grass fibres for insulation of the brood.

Bumblebee Nest
Bumblebee Nest

A nest of the bumblebee, Bombus terrestris, with honey pots, pollen pots and brood cells, nestled inside a grassy cradle.
(Drawing by Tarlton Rayment, A Cluster of Bees, 1935.)