The buff-tailed bumble bee, also known as the humble-bee or large earth humble-bee (Bombus terrestris) is named for the queen's coloration - she has a buff-colored abdomen. This bee is native to Europe, coastal north Africa, and west and central Asia. The buff-tailed bumble bee pollinates fruit trees, raspberries, and blueberries, as well as greenhouse-grown tomatoes.
The buff-tailed bumble bee is an efficient commercial pollinator for several reasons: it is widely distributed; it produces large colonies; and it is adaptable to artificial conditions and diverse climatic conditions, habitats, and flower types. Although these bees are efficient pollinators, they also are known to be nectar robbers - when they find a flower with nectar too deep for them to reach they bite a hole near the base of the corolla and drink the nectar through the hole. When the bees collect nectar this way, they do not necessarily pollinate the flower.
Since the late 1980's, this species has been used for commercial pollination of greenhouse-grown tomato crops throughout Europe and in countries where the species is not native, such as New Zealand and Japan. In 1995 and 1996 shipments of the buff-tailed bumble bee were allowed into Mexico. Shortly after this importation, the internal bumble bee parasite Nosema bombi (a microsporidian or very small species of fungi) was discovered in shipments of the buff-tailed bumble bee and all imported colonies were destroyed and importation permits retracted.
Many countries have concerns about importing these non-native bees. In addition to outbreaks of disease, other concerns include: threatening the relationships between native plants and pollinators; introducing new diseases; and disrupting genetic adaptations by hybridizing with native species. Because of these concerns, restrictions on importation of the buff-tailed bumble bee exist in the Canary Islands, Norway, Japan, China, South Africa, New South Wales, and Australia. The importation of the buff-tailed bumble bee is prohibited in the United States, Canada, and Mexico. However, even with these restrictions, close to one million buff-tailed and eastern bumble bee (B. impatiens) colonies are reared commercially each year in 16 countries in Europe, Asia, South America, and Australia each year (Velthuis, H. H. et al., 2006).
- Bombus terrestris and lucorum, Laura Brodie, University of Aberdeen, http://www.bumblebee.org/
- Importation of Non-Native Bumble Bees into North America: Potential Consequences of Using Bombus terrestris and Other Non-Native Bumble Bees for Greenhouse Crop Pollination in Canada, Mexico, and the United States, K. Winter, L. Adams, R. Thorp, D. Inouye, L. Day, J. Ascher, and S.Buchmann, North American Pollinator Protection Campaign, August 2006
- Subgenus Bombus Latreille, 1802 (Apidae: Apinae: Bombini), Thorp, R. W., and M. D. Shepherd. 2005. Profile: Subgenus Bombus In: Shepherd, M. D., D. M. Vaughan, and S. H. Black (Eds). Red List of Pollinator Insects of North America. CD-ROM Version 1 (May 2005).Portland, OR: The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation
- A century of advances in bumble bee domestication and the economic and environmental aspects of its commercialization for pollination, H. H. W. Velthuis, and A. van Doorn, Apidologie, vol. 37, no. 4, 2006, pp. 421-451.