In summer, flowers add color to the Arctic tundra. Monk's hood, lousewort, avens, and willow catkins bloom and begin receiving visitors - nectar-sipping pollinators. Important among them is the fuzzy Arctic bumblebee, the queen of beasts among the tundra flowers. Big and hairy, Bombus polaris is exquisitely adapted to life in the north. The Arctic bumblebees' ability to fly at low temperatures and for long distances makes them particularly important pollinators.
One fat bee crawls from a purple monk's hood blossom and heads to the next patch of flowers. She emerged from hibernation in May as the tundra began warming. She spent nine months in a mouse nest or some other subterranean burrow suspended in an almost lifeless state of hibernation. Already mated last fall, this queen is the sole survivor of her colony and has a busy summer ahead of her. Right now, she's a queen with no subjects and a date with death this coming fall. She has eggs to lay, and the eggs must hatch, and the larvae must grow, pupate, and develop into adults.
The queen's first batch will develop into workers bees: small sterile females who will enlarge the nest, forage, and tend the next generation of bees. She will produce a second brood in late summer that includes males (called drones) and up to a hundred fertile females who are candidates for next year's queen. The drones' sole function is to fertilize the females.
Bumblebee colonies in temperate climates generally produce hundreds of successful queens. In the Arctic, only one queen per colony on average will survive the winter to renew the life cycle.