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Montana Field Guide

Montana Field Guides

  • Home - Other Field Guides
    • Kingdom - Animals - Animalia
      • Phylum - Spiders, Insects, and Crustaceans - Arthropoda
        • Class - Insects - Insecta
          • Order - Sawflies / Wasps / Bees / Ants - Hymenoptera
            • Family - Bumble, Honey, Carpenter, Stingless, & Orchid Bees - Apidae
              • Species - High Country Bumble Bee - Bombus kirbiellus
High Country Bumble Bee - Bombus kirbiellus
Other Names:  Bombus balteatus, Alpinobombus balteatus, Bombus kirbyellus

Native Species

Global Rank: G3G5
State Rank: SNR

Agency Status


External Links

General Description
For definitions and diagrams of bumble bee morphology please see the Montana State Entomology Collection's Bumble Bee Morphology page. A long-tongued medium-sized species: queens 19-21 mm in length, workers 11-19 mm. Hair moderately long, head long with cheek much longer than wide; mid leg basitarsus with back far corner just acute but rounded, hind leg femur out surface flat and hairless (except for fringe) forming a pollen basket; hair on head black (often with yellow tufts at base of antennae), top pf head yellow mixed with black hairs; side of thorax yellow at least in upper half; T1-2 yellow, T3 usually with traces of yellow near edges at sides, banding on T3-4 clearly defined. Males 13-17 mm in length; eyes similar in size and shape to eyes of any female bumble bee; antennae long, flagellum 4X the length of scape; hair color pattern similar to queens and workers but the black band between the wings extensively intermixed with yellow hairs; S2-6 almost entirely bright yellow (Williams et al. 2014).

Across the range, queens reported April to September, workers and males May to September (Williams et al. 2014). In Toulumne County, California, queens reported May to August, workers June to September, males July to September (Koch et al. 2012); elsewhere in California, queens early July to early August, workers late July to early September, males late July to late August (Thorp et al. 1983).

Diagnostic Characteristics
Please see the Montana State Entomology Collection's Key to Female Bumble Bees in Montana. Females told from other Montana Bombus by a combination of the hind leg outer surface concave and hairless (except fringe), pollen basket present; cheek much longer than wide; face predominantly with black hair; T1-2 with yellow hair, T4-5 with orange or pale orange hairs.

Species Range
Resident Year Round

Recorded Montana Distribution

Click the map for additional distribution information.
Distributional Information Provided in Collaboration with the
Montana Entomology Collection at Montana State University


Range Comments
High elevations in the western US and Canada, from Alaska south to central California in the Sierra Nevada and White Mountains, to Colorado and northern New Mexico in the Rocky Mountains; also across the Arctic from Alaska to Ellesmere Island, northern Quebec, and Labradore (Williams et al. 2014). Reported in Colorado at 2900-4300 m elevation (Macior 1974), in California at 2740-3810 m elevation (Thorp et al. 1983). Reported in Montana above treeline (3050 m) in the Beartooth Mountains where it was the most abundant of 11 Bombus species (Bauer 1983).

Mostly above treeline at high elevations in alpine tundra, but also in high subalpine forest meadows; also occupies open boreal areas and Arctic tundra (Macior 1974, Hobbs 1967, Williams et al. 2014).
Predicted Suitable Habitat Model

This species has a Predicted Suitable Habitat Model available.

To learn how these Models were created see

Food Habits
Feeds on a variety of flowers, including Aster, Castilleja, Chionophila, Chrysothamnus, Delphinium, Epilobium, Erysimum, Gentiana, Geranium, Lupinus, Mertensia, Oxytropis, Pedicularis, Penstemon, Phacelia, Phlox, Polemonium, Polygonum, Primula, Sedum, Senecio, Solidago, Symphyotrichum and Trifolium (Macior 1974, Schmitt 1980, Bauer 1983, Shaw and Taylor 1986, Pyke et al. 2012, Koch et al. 2012, Miller-Struttmann and Galen 2014, Williams et al. 2014, Ogilvie and Thomson 2015).

Reproductive Characteristics
Nests built mostly underground. Nests were established in two above-ground hives and 12 below-ground hives in alpine tundra of southern Alberta; nest building began during mid-June to mid-July. All eggs of first broods deposited in a single cell, average number of eggs was 11 (range 7-21), the number of larvae was 14 (12-15). All members of first broods are workers, males and queens produced in succeeding broods (Hobbs 1964). In Colorado, 27 queens and two nests reported at 3600-4090 m elevation (Macior 1974). Males patrol circuits in search of queens. Parasitism by cuckoo bumble bees not reported in North America, but parasitized by B. hyperboreus in Europe (Williams et al. 2014).

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Citation for data on this website:
High Country Bumble Bee — Bombus kirbiellus.  Montana Field Guide.  .  Retrieved on , from