This is our largest bumblebee and is sometimes known as the ‘Large Earth Bumblebee’. It is usually the first to emerge after hibernation. The queen has a distinctive dirty white to orangey tail, and deep yellow thoracic and abdominal bands. The tongue is very short. Queen 19 to 22mm, male 14 to 16mm, worker 11 to 17mm.
Because of its short tongue this bee has developed a special ability to reach the nectar deep within flower heads by biting a hole at the base of the corolla and then drinking through it. These bees can apparently navigate their way back to a nest from 13km (8 miles) away! Important pollinators, especially of fruit trees, raspberries and blueberries. The nests are built in a variety of locations, but usually underground and always undercover. Large nests may contain over 300 workers. The Vestal Cuckoo-bee (Bombus vestalis) is a cleptoparasitic bee which invades the nests and looks very similar. Feeds on nectar and pollen.
Emerging as early as February in the south. Found in many habitats, and a regular visitor to gardens. A common and very widespread species, not only throughout Britain but also Europe. But not in the far north, and scarce in Scotland.
Photographs of Buff-tailed Bumblebee (Bombus terrestris), taken September 2016, rear garden , Staffordshire. © Pete Hillman 2016. Camera used Nikon D7200, with Sigma 105mm macro lens.