15 Buzzworthy Facts About Bumblebees


Bumblebees—those fat, fuzzy fliers—are fascinating creatures. They’re also very hard to study, as are most animals that are too small to tag and can fly away at any moment. Dave Goulson, a scientist who founded a conservation trust to support bumblebee populations, has spent his career researching the habits and mannerisms of the humble bumblebee, a life he chronicles in his book about the bug, A Sting in the Tale: My Adventures with Bumblebees. Here are 15 compact facts we learned about bumblebees from Goulson’s adventures in bee research. 

1. The world’s largest bumblebee is the Bombus dahlbomii of South America. 

Its queens are described as looking like flying mice

2. Bumblebee eggs are shaped like sausages. 

Tiny, tiny sausages. 

3. A bumblebee flaps its wings 200 times per second. 

That’s a similar RPM to some motorcycle engines. 

4. Bees have to eat a ton.

Bumblebees have extremely fast metabolisms, so they have to eat almost continuously. “A bumblebee with a full stomach is only ever about 40 minutes from starvation,” as Goulson puts it. 

5. Bumblebee nests are much smaller than those of other species. 

They have a maximum of 300 to 400 worker bees, compared to the tens of thousands found in a honeybee or wasp nest. For context, there are around 25,000 known species of bee, though there are likely more that have yet to be discovered. 

6. Bee sperm lives for months inside the queen bee. 

Only the fat queen bee survives winter hibernation, and she’s left to create a colony by herself. Sperm stored up from mating the previous summer survives in her ovaries, ready to fertilize her eggs once she finally finds a nesting place. By the end of the summer, when she’s a little over a year old, the queen and all her worker bees die, to be replaced by her daughters.  

7. Queen bees control the genetics of their offspring.

Male bumblebees have only one chromosome, and no father. To produce a son, a queen bee merely has to lay an unfertilized egg. To have daughters—who make up the entirety of a bee workforce—a queen bee fertilizes her eggs with sperm she’s been storing since the previous summer.

8. Bees have complicated family trees. 

Because bee sisters receive exactly the same genes from their fathers, but only share around 50 percent of genes from their mother’s side, a female bumblebee is 75 percent related to her sisters. But she’s only 50 percent related to her children, who get half their genes from their father and half from her. That’s why it makes sense for the majority of bees in the nest to help raise the queen’s offspring, rather than running off to start their own nests. The worker bee’s sisters carry more of her genes than her children would, so she leaves that whole childbirth thing to her mother. 

9. Bumblebees don’t die when they sting. 

That’s just a thing in honeybees. So yes, a bumblebee can sting you twice. However, male bumblebees don’t have a stinger at all, and female bumblebees aren’t very aggressive, so unless you go barging into their nest, you’re likely safe. 

10. Most of what we know about bumblebee nests comes from an entomologist who died in 1912.

Frederick William Lambart Sladen was the first scientist to devote his research completely to bumblebees. He published his first book about the bee at the age of 16, in 1892, solidifying himself as the world expert. And he still kind of is. “Species that are today rare or extinct in Britain, such as the short-haired bumblebee, were familiar to Sladen, and his descriptions of the nests of such species remain pretty much all that we know,” Goulson writes. “No one has come close to matching Sladen’s knowledge of the nesting habits of bumblebees.”

11. To safely pick up a live bee, scientists use a special device. 

It’s called a pooter. Hehe. Pooter. In all seriousness, it allows scientists to pick bees up to study them without harming them. Researchers can suck small insects into a jar by inhaling through one end of a tube. Mesh on the mouthpiece prevents the insect from being sucked directly into the scientist’s mouth. 

12. Taking DNA samples from bees involves cutting off their toes. 

Bees don’t really have toes, but scientists snip the final tarsal segment off wild bees to run genetic tests on back in the lab. It doesn’t shorten their lifespan or reduce their ability to gather food, so presumably it’s not as cruel as it sounds. 

13. Bees have smelly feet. 

Bees, like all insects, are covered in an oily film that makes them waterproof. When they land on a flower, they leave their chemical signature behind. Other bees can smell these oily footprints left on flowers, and know not to land on the same place—the nectar’s already been pillaged. Bees also use these footprints as a sort of smelly “Welcome Home” mat; the scent helps them find their way back to the entrance of their nest. 

14. Bumblebees air condition their nests with their own wings.

If the nest gets too hot, worker bees post themselves near the entrance and fan the hot air out, like tiny flapping A/C units. The hotter it is, the more workers join in the effort in order to keep the nest at exactly 86 degrees Fahrenheit, their preferred temperature. If their body temperature rises above 111 degrees, the bumblebees will die. 

15. Hordes of male bumblebees congregate on hilltops. 

In a study of bees in Scotland, Goulson found that areas atop hills attract an unusual amount of male bees compared to flat areas or midway up a hill. While he speculates that this may be an effort to attract mates—some other male insects gather at higher altitudes to wait for a lucky lady to come along—scientists have not observed this pick-up technique succeeding. However, bumblebees produce more eligible bachelors than they do bachelorettes. There are about seven males for every queen born, so most males never mate. 

10 Fascinating Facts About The Scarlet Letter

These days, we tend to think about The Scarlet Letter in relation to high school students struggling with their English papers, but we didn’t always see the book that way. When Nathaniel Hawthorne published the novel on March 16, 1850, it was a juicy bestseller about an adulterous woman forced to wear a scarlet ‘A’ on her chest by a community steeped in religious hypocrisy. Here are 10 things you might not have known about the classic tome.


Hawthorne, who was born in Salem, Massachusetts, was aware of his messy Puritan heritage. His great-great-grandfather William Hathorne came to Salem in 1636. As the Massachusetts Bay delegate, he tried to rid the town of Quakers by having them whipped and dragged through the street half naked. His son, John Hathorne, was even worse. As a magistrate during the Salem witch trials of 1692, he examined more than one hundred accused witches, and found them all guilty. Hawthorne detested this legacy and distanced himself from his ancestors by adding the “W” to the spelling of his name.


Unable to support his family by publishing short stories, Hawthorne took a politically appointed post at the Salem Custom House in 1846. Three years later, he was fired because of a political shakeup. The loss of his job, as well as the death of his mother, depressed Hawthorne, but he was also furious at Salem. "I detest this town so much that I hate to go out into the streets, or to have people see me,” he said.

It was in this mood that he started The Scarlet Letter.


In 1846, Hawthorne's sister-in-law Elizabeth Peabody published the work of Hungarian linguist Charles Kraitsir. Two years later, it was discovered that Kraitsir’s wife had seduced several of his students at the University of Virginia. He left his wife and daughter in Philadelphia and fled to Peabody for help. Peabody responded by going to Philadelphia in an attempt to gain guardianship of the daughter. This didn’t go over so well with the wife. She followed Peabody back to Boston and confronted her husband. In response, Peabody and Kraitsir tried to get her committed to a lunatic asylum. The press got wind of the story and Kraitsir was skewered for looking weak and hiding behind Peabody’s skirts. Hawthorne watched as the scandal surrounding a woman’s affairs played out on the public stage, right as he was starting The Scarlet Letter.


Hawthorne must have known there was historical precedence for The Scarlet Letter. According to a 1658 law in Plymouth, people caught in adultery were whipped and forced “to weare two Capitall letters namely A D cut out in cloth and sowed on theire vpermost Garments on theire arme or backe.” If they ever took the letters off, they would be publicly whipped again. A similar law was enacted in Salem.

In the town of York (now in Maine) in 1651, near where Hawthorne’s family owned property, a woman named Mary Batchellor was whipped 40 lashes for adultery and forced to wear an ‘A’ on her clothes. She was married to Stephen Batchellor, a minister over 80 years old. Sound familiar?


In an 1871 issue of The Atlantic Monthly, editor James T. Fields wrote about being Hawthorne’s champion. Not only did he try to get Hawthorne reinstated in his Custom House post, Fields said he convinced Hawthorne to write The Scarlet Letter as a novel. One day, while trying to encourage the despondent writer ("'Who would risk publishing a book for me, the most unpopular writer in America?' 'I would,' said I"), Fields noticed Hawthorne’s bureau. He said he bet Hawthorne had already written something new and that it was in one of the drawers. Hawthorne, flabbergasted, pulled out a manuscript. “How in Heaven's name did you know this thing was there?” he said. He gave Fields the “germ” of The Scarlet Letter. Fields then persuaded Hawthorne to alter “the plan of that story” and write a full-sized book. The rest is history.

Or is it? Hawthorne’s wife Sophia said of Fields’s claims: “He has made the absurd boast that he was the sole cause of the Scarlet Letter being published!" She added that Edwin Percy Whipple was the one who encouraged Hawthorne.


Hester Prynne is a tall, dignified character who endures her outcast status with grace and strength. Although she has fallen to a low place as an adulteress with an illegitimate child, she becomes a successful seamstress and raises her daughter even though the authorities want to take the child away. As such, she’s a complex character who embodies what happens when a woman breaks societal rules. Hawthorne not only knew accomplished women such as Peabody and Margaret Fuller, he was writing The Scarlet Letter directly after the first women's rights convention in New York in 1848. He was one of the first American writers to depict “women’s rights, women’s work, women in relation to men, and social change,” according to biographer Brenda Wineapple.


As you probably know, Hawthorne hits you in the head with symbolism throughout The Scarlet Letter, starting with the characters’ names—Pearl for an unwanted child, Roger Chillingworth for a twisted, cold man, Arthur Dimmesdale for a man whose education cannot lead him to truth. From the wild woods to the rosebush by the jail to the embroidered ‘A’ itself, it’s easy to see why The Scarlet Letter is the book that launched a thousand literary essays.


In the 87,000-plus words that make up The Scarlet Letter, Hawthorne used “ignominy” 16 times, “ignominious” seven times, and “ignominiously” once. He apparently had affection for the word, which means dishonor, infamy, disgrace, or shame. Either that, or he needed a thesaurus.


While the reviews were generally positive, others condemned The Scarlet Letter as smut. For example, this 1851 review by Reverend Arthur Cleveland Coxe: “Why has our author selected such a theme? … Is it, in short, because a running underside of filth has become as requisite to a romance, as death in the fifth act to a tragedy? Is the French era actually begun in our literature? … we honestly believe that "the Scarlet Letter" has already done not a little to degrade our literature, and to encourage social licentiousness.” This kind of rhetoric didn’t hurt sales. In fact, The Scarlet Letter’s initial print run of 2500 books sold out in 10 days.


The Scarlet Letter made Hawthorne a well-known writer, allowed him to purchase a home in Concord, and insured an audience for books like The House of Seven Gables. However, The Scarlet Letter didn’t make Hawthorne rich. Despite its success in the U.S. and abroad, royalties weren’t that great—overseas editions paid less than a penny per copy. Hawthorne only made $1500 from the book over the remaining 14 years of his life. He was never able to escape the money troubles that plagued him.

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Pop Culture
Is the True Identity of Voldemort's Pet Snake Hidden in the New Fantastic Beasts Trailer?
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In the Harry Potter series, many of Voldemort's horcruxes were give rich backstories, like Tom Riddle's diary, Marvolo Gaunt's ring, and of course, Harry himself. But the most personal horcrux containing a fragment of Voldemort's soul is also the biggest mystery. Voldemort carries Nagini the snake with him wherever he goes, but we still don't know how the two met or where Nagini came from. Fans may not have to wait much longer to find out: One fan theory laid out by Vanity Fair suggests that Nagini is actually a cursed witch, and her true identity will be revealed in the next Fantastic Beasts movie.

On March 13, the trailer dropped for Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, the second installment in the Harry Potter prequel series written by J.K. Rowling. The clips include lots of goodies for fans—including a first look at Jude Law as young Dumbledore—but one potential bombshell requires closer examination.

Pay attention at the 1:07 mark in the video below and you'll see Claudia Kim, the actress playing a new, unnamed character in the film. While we don't know much about her yet, Pottermore tells us that she is a Maledictus or “someone who suffers from a ‘blood curse’ that turns them into a beast.” This revelation led some fans to suspect the beast she transforms into is Nagini, the snake destined to be Voldemort's companion.

That isn't the only clue backing up the theory. The second piece of evidence comes in the trailer at the 1:17 mark: There, you can see an advertisement for a "wizarding circus," featuring a poster of a woman resembling Kim constricted a by massive snake.

If Kim's character does turn out to be Nagini, the theory still doesn't explain how she eventually joins forces with Voldemort and becomes his horcrux. Fans will have to wait until the film's release on November 16, 2018 for answers. Fortunately, there are plenty of other Harry Potter fan theories to study up on in the meantime.

[h/t Vanity Fair]


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