Costa Rican bumblebees?

Soon I will be off on vacation in Costa Rica! I am extremely excited.

We will be visiting parks, a wildlife refuge, going on bird-watching tours…and maybe, if I’m lucky enough, I’ll spot a Costa Rican bumblebee!

I just assumed Costa Rica has bumblebees because bumblebees can be found in the tropics. With a little research I found that Costa Rica does have bumblebees: Bombus ephippiatus.

Bombus ephippiatus
Apparently this is Bombus ephippiatus. I’m surprised by how dark her wings are. This species has colour variations with different amounts of yellow, black, and orange fur. Look at the fantastic balls of pollen on her back legs! What a beauty. With thanks to

Bombus ephippiatus is sometimes referred to as the “Mexican bumblebee,” because it’s found in Mexico and surrounding areas.

I couldn’t find much information on Bombus ephippiatus, maybe because it hasn’t been studied as much as other bumblebee species.

I did find two papers of interest. One was published back in 1985 and compared Costa Rican Bombus ephippiatus with temperate species of bumblebees. Like most tropical bumblebee species, Bombus ephippiatus produced more bumblebees in their colony compared to temperate species, and new queens didn’t have to hibernate before starting their own colonies. (New bumblebee queens in temperate zones, once they are fertilized, dig a hole in the ground and hibernate during the winter until spring.)

The second paper I found was published more recently in 2012, and compared Mexican Bombus ephippiatus to a temperate species, Bombus impatiens, in terms of pollination of greenhouse tomatoes. Bombus impatiens is a popular species for pollination of greenhouse tomatoes…and it is also the species I studied for my PhD thesis! Hooray, Bombus impatiens! (I also used Bombus bimaculatus in my experiments, and I am quite fond of that species, too. They are sometimes called the “two-spotted bumblebee,” because of the two yellow spots on its abdomen. The Bombus bimaculatus I worked with were exceptionally calm. We referred to them affectionately as “bims.” But I digress…)

The authors of the second paper found that Bombus ephippiatus was just as good at pollinating greenhouse tomato plants as Bombus impatiens. Which is interesting, because apparently Mexico has been importing colonies of Bombus impatiens to pollinate their greenhouse tomatoes, when it looks like they already had a good pollinator in their backyard…

So although I’ll certainly be marvelling at all the Costa Rican wildlife (Monkeys! Birds! Sloths! Turtles! EEEEEeeeeeeeeeeee, I can’t wait!!), I’ll also have my eyes wide open in case I cross paths with a Costa Rican bumblebee.

Here is a photo of Bombus bimaculatus:

Bombus bimaculatus. See the two yellow ridges (stripes) on her abdomen? Thanks to In my experiments, that nice round smooth spot on her thorax is where we would glue a numbered plastic tag.

And here is a photo of Bombus impatiens:

Bombus impatiens
Bombus impatiens. This species only has one ridge (stripe) of yellow on its abdomen. Thanks to



Laverty, T. M. & Plowright, R. C. (1985). Comparative bionomics of temperate and tropical bumble bees with special reference to Bombus ephippiatus (Hymenoptera: Apidae). Canadian Entomologist, 117, 467-474.

Torres-Ruiz, A., & Jones, R. W. (2012). Comparison of the efficiency of the bumble bees Bombus impatiens and Bombus ephippiatus (Hymenoptera: Apidae) as pollinators of tomato in greenhouses. Journal of Economic Entomology, 105(6), 1871-1877.


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