With its all black coat apart from the bright red tail from where the English name originates, this is Britain’s most distinctive bee. A large, slender bee, the male has a yellow collar. The queens grow up to 22mm in length, and the workers up to 16mm in length.
The nests are made in a variety of different places, usually in open areas underground, beneath large rocks, or in wall cavities. Large, mature nests may contain up to 150 workers. Young nests may be taken over by the cleptoparasitic bee Bombus rupestris. Feeds on nectar and pollen. It will sting if its nest is threatened. An important pollinator of oil-seed rape crops.
Queens emerge from hibernation fairly late compared to other species of bumblebee. Found in arable fields, gardens and chalk downland. Common and widespread.
Photographs taken March 2014 and May 2015, rear garden, Staffordshire.