Bumblebees and honeybees have been the subjects of a great deal of recent research in animal cognition. Many of the major topics in cognition, including memory, attention, concept learning, numerosity, spatial cognition, timing, social learning, and metacognition have been examined in bumblebees, honeybees, or both. Although bumblebees and honeybees are very closely related, they also differ in important ways, including social organization, development, and foraging behaviour. We examine whether differences between bumblebees and honeybees in cognitive processes are related to differences in their natural history and behaviour. There are differences in some cognitive traits, such as serial reversal learning and matching-to-sample, that appear related to differences between bumblebees and honeybees in foraging and social behaviour. Other cognitive processes, such as numerosity, appear to be very similar. Despite the wealth of information that is available on some aspects of bumblebee and honeybee cognition and behaviour, there are relatively few instances, however, in which adequate data exist to make direct comparisons. We highlight a number of phenomena, including concept learning, spatial cognition, timing, and metacognition, for which targeted comparative research may reveal unexpected adaptive variation in cognitive processes in these complex animals. This article is part of a Special Issue entitled: In Honor of Jerry Hogan.