Also know as the ‘Brown Bumblebee’, this bee has a very distinctive tawny or gingery thorax. The abdominal region contains a mixture of black and brown hairs with traces of fine grey to white and is thin in coverage compared to the thorax which is fairly thick. A long-tongued bee. Size queen 15 to 18mm, worker 10 to 15mm.
These bees use their legs to comb moss (hence the English reference ‘Carder’ which comes from the world of spinning wool) to make their nests. They are relatively placid creatures, and rarely sting even when handled or disturbed. They feed on pollen and nectar, particularly that of clovers. An essential pollinator, and the only bee known to pollinate broad beans.
It is a surface-nesting bee, and nests are usually formed in old mouse holes or amongst carpets of moss or thick grass. The cuckoobee Bombus campestris targets the nests and uses the worker caste to its own advantage.
One of the earliest bees and one of the last to disappear in the autumn. Found in all habitats, including farmland and woodland glades, parks and gardens. Widespread and common in Britain, and one of the commonest bumblebees in Europe.
May 2007, rear garden, Staffordshire. © Pete Hillman 2007.