Spring Bumblebees

With more people spending time in their gardens, you might have noticed visiting bumblebees. Various species of bumblebee are emerging from hibernation at the moment, all of which will be queens. National Park Ranger Shaun Hackett has collated information to help you spot and identify these spring visitors.

Early Bumblebee

This is one of the smaller species of bumblebee and a common garden species on the wing early in the year hence its name.

Early Bumblebee on a flower

It has a yellow band on its collar and another on its abdomen, though this band is often faint or missing. It has a rusty-red tail in colour (you’ll have to bend over to look at its bottom to see this!)

Buff Tailed Bumblebee

One of the biggest and most common is the Buff-tailed bumblebee, identified by its two dark yellow to burnt orange coloured bands and off-white to buff coloured tail.

A buff tailed bee on a flower

Many of these queens can be seen hunting for nest sites, buzzing about away from flowers inspecting any hole in a wall or in the ground they come across. If you see any in your garden, send us a photo.

Red-tailed Bumblebee

The Red-tailed Bumblebee is a striking and sizable bumblebee very distinctively marked being all velvety black bodied with a dark red tail. In a few weeks the workers will emerge as smaller versions.

A red tailed bee on a flower

Spring queens visit blossoms and flowers of many sorts including garden plants such as flowering currant, Hebe, Berberis and Perennial wallflower.

White-tailed Bumblebee

The White-tailed Bumblebee is a common garden sight. Queens are fairly large with two lemon-yellow bands on the body and white tail with the workers half her size when on the wing later.

A white tailed bee on a flower

They visit spring garden flowers such as Flowering Currant, Wallflowers, Willow and Cherry blossom. White and Red Deadnettle’s are favoured wildflowers.

Tree Bumblebee

The Tree Bumblebee; this distinctively marked bee is a relative newcomer to the UK having only arrived from mainland Europe in the 2001 but has now spread to all parts.

Ginger thorax black abdomen and white tail make this an easy species to identify. Will you be able to spot any?

A Tree Bumblebee

A woodland edge species that nests in holes in trees, it does also favour gardens and commonly nests in Bird boxes. Queens visit Sallow and other blossom tree species as well as variety of common garden flowers.

Garden Bumblebee

The Garden Bumblebee; despite its name it isn’t just confined to gardens but is a common visitor. Similar to the White-tail bumblebee in colour banding with two yellow bands on the body and a white tail only.

A Garden Bumblebee on a flower

If you look carefully the yellow band in the middle of the bees body is wide stretching across the bees thorax and abdomen. It is also known for its long tongue ,14mm in length!

It is dependent on long tubed flowers wild and garden. Favourite spring garden flowers include flowering currant, pansy daffodils and aubrieta. Wildflowers White dead-nettle and Bluebell are commonly visited away from the garden.

Common Carder

 

Common Carder; along with the White-tailed Bumblebee the Common Carder is one of the most widespread and most common bumblebees to be seen.

A Common carder on a yellow flower

Generally a ginger-brown coloured bee with variable amounts of black within it.

This species has a mid-length tongue and commonly visits wallflowers, flowering currant, apple, berberis and aubrieta. It nests on the ground in grass and moss.

Cuckoo Bumblebee

When is a Bumblebee Not a Bumblebee? When it’s a Cuckoo Bumblebee!

Just when you thought identifying bumblebees was easy, now to complicate things. If, when out in the garden looking at bumblebees, you come across one that doesn’t match up to the identification book then chances are you have seen a cuckoo bumble. And no, as the children always ask at talks, it does not go “cuckoo cuckoo”, but it does take over the nest of other bumblebees and lays its eggs.

There are six species of cuckoo bumblebee – two of which often occur in gardens. It is thought that they have evolved from the bumblebee to live a different way. The queens emerge in the spring to feed up before looking for a nest to take over. After finding one the queen will hide in the nest for a day or two, which helps her to get the smell of the colony and become accepted and not attacked by the nest’s workers.

A Cuckoo Bee on a flower

Then she tackles the queen whose nest it is. They fight each other and the cuckoo bumblebee usually wins the fight as she has evolved a thicker body shell that can withstand the stings of the other queen, who is killed or gives in. She then lays her eggs and the unsuspecting workers set to caring for them and accepting them as their own. Strange but true – the insect world is a complicated world. The life of a bee is not straightforward.

Cuckoo bumblebees differ in appearance from their hosts, being not as attractive, less hairy and having less noticeable yellow bands especially on the tail end and are much more lethargic when moving around, often crawling from flower to flower rather than ‘busy as a bumblebee’ – flying quickly from one to another.