Forgive me blogging-friend for I have sinned. It has been 40 days since my last blog. I seek forgiveness by giving you my “Top Six Bumbles” and promise to do many, many hours of penance in front of my computer in the coming months.
Buff Tailed Bumblebee (Bombus terrestris) photographed June 2009
In fact, that’s one of the reasons I haven’t blogged; too busy looking at the wildlife to blog about it!
Anyway to make up for it (and because my friend Peter at Bishopthorpe Nature did a great blog post recently about Cuckoo Bumbles which has spurred me into action) here are my Top Six Bumbles to look out for in and around your own garden (all of them are common species and all but one was photographed this June):
In no particular order…
No 6 – The Early Bumblebee (Bombus pratorum)
Queens, workers & males all have one yellow stripe on the thorax and one on the abdomen (which is preceded by a black band) and an orange tail. The male has very distinctive yellow hairs on it’s face. Small species (especially the workers). It’s face is as long as it is wide, and it has a short tongue. Colours can be very variable with some workers almost all black and some males with a second band of yellow on the thorax.
Easy to confuse with Bombus lapidarius. Resemblance to Bombus monticola.
Often found in gardens (great pollinators of soft-fruit flowers), this bumble can have two generations in the South. Queens are often one of the earliest to be seen in Spring. Males often produced in May.
Early Bumblebee (Bombus pratorum) male photographed June 2009
No 5 – the Common Carder Bee (Bombus pascuorum)
Queens, workers and males are practically all pale ginger-brown colour, with a few patches of black hairs on the abdomen (sometimes there are a lot of these). There are distinct black hairs in with the ginger-brown ones on the thorax. Male has ginger-brown facial hairs. Medium sized. Abdomen is almost round (but seems more ovoid in males). Face longer than wide, long tongue. Colours don’t tend to vary too much but they do fade to an almost grey-brown colour.
Easy to confuse with Bombus humilis and Bombus muscorum.
Another regular garden visitor. Queens searching for suitable nesting sites are often the first carder-bees to be seen (March in the South).
Common Carder Bee (Bombus pascuorum) photographed June 2009
No 4 – the White Tailed Bumblebee (Bombus lucorum)
Queens, workers and some males have a single yellow band at the front of the thorax and one on the abdomen (which is preceded by a black band). White tail. Males have yellow facial hair (which is a good clear yellow – not muddy). Large, robust species – although workers are much smaller. Face as long as wide, tongue very short. There is some variation. Some males have an additional yellow band at the rear of the thorax and no black band at the beginning of the abdomen.
Workers are hard to distinguish from Bombus terrestris, although queens & males should be easy to ID.
Regularly seen in gardens. Nest searching queens sometimes seen in February in South (and may be starting to nest in Autumn in some mild areas).
White Tailed Bumblebee (Bombus lucorum) male photographed June 2009
No. 3 – the Buff Tailed Bumblebee (Bombus terrestris)
Queens, workers and males have a single yellow stripe on front of thorax, one on the abdomen (preceded by a black band). Tail is a dirty-white to buff colour, occasionally orange-red. Facial hair on male is black. Very large, robust species – workers are much smaller. Face as long as wide, tongue very short. Very little variation in colour in the UK-native population.
Workers easy to mix up with Bombus lucorum – although males & queens should be easy to ID.
A regular garden species. Not found in the far north & scarse in Scotland (although it’s moving north!). Nest-searching queens seen in February in the South (and sometimes in the winter).
Buff Tailed Bumblebee (Bombus terrestris) photographed June 2009
No 2 – The Red Tailed Bumblebee (Bombus lapidarius)
Queens and workers have black head, thorax and abdomen with orange-red tail (less than 50% of total length of abdomen). Abdomen is longer than wide. Males have yellow facial hair, yellow bands on thorax, abdomen is black and orange-red tail. A large robust species – although workers are much smaller. Face as long as wide, tongue mid-length. The yellow colouring in the males varies – some have very little yellow banding. Very occasionally females have faint yellow banding.
Can be mistaken for Bombus ruderarius, Bombus lapidarius, Bombus rupestris – but if you look closely and compare you should be able to find differences.
Widespread and found in many habitats. Spreading into north-east Scotland.
Red Tailed Bumblebee (Bombus lapidarius) male photographed June 2009
No 1 – The Garden Bumblebee (Bombus hortorum)
Queens, workers and males have two yellow bands on the thorax and one at the base of the abdomen. Tail is white. Males have black facial hair. A large, robust species – although early workers may be much smaller. Face is very much longer than wide, tongue is very long (which it unfolds as it approaches a flower to drink nectar). Some individuals can be very dark (almost black), but the tail usually remains white.
Similar to Bombus ruderatus (rare) and Bombus jonellus.
Widespread species found in gardens. However, it may not be frequent in some areas.
Garden Bumblebee (Bombus hortorum) photographed Sept 08
and the extra one? Well that’s a Cuckoo…. what’s a cuckoo? well it takes over the nest of another bumblebee – dirty rotter!
The Vestal Bumblebee (Bombus vestalis)
This species takes over the nest of the Buff Tailed Bumblebee (Bombus terrestris).
Females & males have one dark-yellow stripe on the thorax, none on the abdomen. Tail is white, with clear dark-yellow side patches at the junction with the black. Wings usually dark-tinged. Male has black facial hairs. No workers. Large robust species. Face as long as wide. Tongue short. This species is very variable in colour (especially males). Sometimes additional faint yellow band at base of abdomen.
Similar to Bombus bohemicus, but the yellow is lighter and side patches smaller in B. bohemicus.
Widespread. Found in many gardens in England & Wales. In South it’s the most commonly found cuckoo bee. Not known in Ireland and only recently recorded in Scotland. Host-searching females may be out in late March. New females & males may be seen resting on flowers from June to August.
Vestal Bumblebee (Bombus vestalis) photographed June 2009
Just in case you think I’ve turned into some kind of “bee guru” (I haven’t!), all the information in this post came from the invaluable little book “Field Guide to the Bumblebees of Great Britain & Ireland” by Mike Edwards and Martin Jenner (which doesn’t seem to be on Amazon at the moment, but is worth picking up if you can).
Bumblebees (and bees in general) are great insects to watch (and learn about). I’ll try to do a general “bee” post later in the year.
I hope you find this post useful and have fun looking for (and photographing) your local Bumbles – I’d love to hear about any that you find!