On a spring day a fat bumblebee sips nectar from a tall blue cornflower, before moving on to a cluster of lupine. This is a western bumblebee, the most common bee in Alaska. She's also a queen. Worker bees don't overwinter in Alaska. The queen emerges in the spring, solo, and establishes a hive, laying eggs and nurturing the first batch of worker bees that by summer will be busily helping with the hive.
Bumblebees do pretty well in Alaska. Fat and furry, they're able to regulate their body temperature and they tolerate cooler weather better than other bees. There are 46 bumblebee species in North America and 23 species are found in Alaska - including the arctic bumblebee, Bombus Polaris, one of only two bee species found in the arctic.
The Western bumble is widespread in the western US and Alaska and is an excellent generalist pollinator, pollinating a wide range of flowers. Over the summer, worker bees gather nectar and pollen, and the queen lays eggs. In late summer and fall, she produces male and female offspring that can reproduce. In the fall, the old queen and the workers die and some female bees - with the potential to become next year's queens - survive and overwinter, hibernating and emerging in the spring to start new colonies.