You can see why they call this the Red-tailed Bumblebee. This is a male with the yellow stripes. I really liked my Lavender, and must have been around it for about half an hour going from flower to flower.
August 2017, rear garden, Staffordshire, England.
Now this is one bumblebee I have seen a definate increase in visits to my garden in recent years.
The Tree Bumblebee is easily recognised by its gingery-brown thorax and black abdomen with a white tail. This is a short-tongued bumblebee. The queen may have some white hairs on her abdomen, and the male has white hairs on his face. Similar to the Common Carder Bee (Bombus pascuorum), except the Tree Bumblebee has a distinct white tail. Size Queen 18mm, worker 14mm, male 16mm.
In its natural setting it nests in hollows of trees, but here it has taken to gardens, and particularly tit boxes.
Seen early in the year from February until July. Found in woodland, roadside verges, scrubby grasslands, parks and allotments. Often seen visiting fruit bearing plants, tree and shrubs, which make them important pollinators.
A relative newcomer to the British Isles, it was first recorded in Hampshire, England in 2001 and has steadily increased in numbers pushing northwards fringing the borders of Scotland. They have also spread rapidly eastwards, but have been slow in the west, but are now in South Wales. The bumblebee has the potential to spread throughout the whole country without any adverse affect on other species.
June 2014, rear garden, Staffordshire. © Pete Hillman 2014. Nikon D3200, with Sigma 105mm macro lens.
Bumblebee Bombus vestalis
This species of cuckoo bee grows up in the nests of the Buff-tailed Bumblebee (Bombus terrestris). This parasitic bee differs from having a conspicuous yellow patch on either side of the abdomen. Other differences include a lack of pollen baskets on the legs, thinner coats, and making a soft murmuring rather than a definitive buzz. This is a short-tongued bee. Also called the ‘Southern Cuckoo Bumblebee’. Similar to the Gypsy Cuckoo-bee (Bombus bohemicus), where the patches aren’t so dominant and are smaller. Sizes male 15 to 19mm, female 20 to 24mm.
Like all cuckoo bees, they have no worker caste as their own, so they invade the hosts’ nests and take the work force for its own. Important plant pollinators.
The female will seek out its host’s nest and will fight off any hostilities towards her, eventually killing the queen of the nest and her offspring, and effectively she will run the show from then onwards, utilising the remaining workers for her and her young’s own benefits. Its hosts’ nests are generally old mouse holes. Feeds on nectar and pollen.
Seen March to August, and found in differing habitats, including gardens and grassland. Males regular in suburban gardens. Common in the south of England and Wales.
June 2007, front garden, Staffordshire. © Pete Hillman 2007.
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.
One of my favourite bumblebees and a regular visitor to my garden.
The queens and workers (and some males) have a white tail and a lemony stripe towards the front of the the thorax, and a lemony stripe across the abdomen. A large robust species with a very short tongue. Similar to Bombus terrestris, which can be very hard to distinguish between workers. Sizes queen 19 to 20mm, male 14 to 16mm, worker 11 to 17mm.
They nest in a variety of places, usually underground, and always under cover. Old rodents’ nests make good places. Often nests beneath timber floors of garden sheds. Mature nests are large, with over 200 workers. Towards the autumn the colony gradually dies out with the old queen, the new fertilised queen flown the nest ready to hibernate and to start over again the next spring. Not particularly fussy eaters. They also dine on the pollen and nectar of the more exotic garden species of flower. They are excellent pollinators.
The queens, looking for nesting sites, are one of the first bees to be seen in the spring. Found in many habitats, but usually in upland and moorland habitats. A regular garden species. Widespread and common, especially towards the north.
June 2006, rear garden, Staffordshire. © Pete Hillman 2006.
This was a special treat when this large bee with a very long tongue (yep, bees have tongues) visited my garden, for I have not seen one since.
Sometimes called the ‘Small Garden Bumblebee’ (despite it being one of the largest species) or the ‘Long-tongued Bumblebee’, it has two yellow bands on the thorax, one yellow band on the abdomen, and a white tail. The tongue is very long (the longest of any bumblebee found in Europe, in fact), and the male has black facial hairs. A large, shaggy garden species. Sizes queen 17 to 22mm, male 13 to 15mm, worker 11 to 16mm.
The nests are usually made underground and always under cover. Queens searching for suitable nesting sites may be observed March to May. Mature nests contain around 100 workers. Barbut’s Cuckoobee (Bombus barbutellus) takes over the nests of B. hortorum, of which it looks very similar, but it is not nearly as widespread.
The males appear in June, and they are found in many habitats, especially gardens. They regularly visits foxglove (Digitalis), Red Clover (Trifolium pratense), and Dead-nettle (Lamium). A widespread and abundant species.
June 2007, rear garden, Staffordshire. © Pete Hillman 2007.
May 2015, male Anthophora plumipes, rear garden, Staffordshire. © Pete Hillman 2015. Nikon D3200, with Sigma 105mm macro lens.
Now this is quite a curious bee I discovered visiting my garden. Sometimes called the ‘Hairy- footed Flower Bee’, the female of this fast-flying solitary bee is jet black, whilst the male is largely gingery-brown with a bright yellow face. Long-tongued bee. Size 14 to 17mm.
The nests are built in the ground and in the loose mortar of old walls. Feeds on nectar and pollen, and is a good pollinator.
They are seen March to June, although rarely seen in June. Found in flower-rich pastures, including gardens, where Common Lungwort (Pulmonaria officinalis) is a favourite flower. Distributed throughout much of England and Wales, especially south. Absent from Scotland and Ireland.
Male, top three images taken April 2007, and female bottom three images taken March 2012, rear garden, Staffordshire. © Pete Hillman 2007 and 2012.
Sometimes called the ‘European Honey Bee’, this is the most familiar of all our bees. It is the male drones that we usually see buzzing around the flower borders in summer. They vary from bright honey coloured to grey or dark brown, for Apis mellifera (translates as ‘honey carrying bee’) covers several subspecies or tribes. Sizes queen 16mm, drone 16mm, worker 12mm.
Widely domesticated bee and associated with artificial hives manufacturing honey, wax, and other products. They communicate with the language of dance. Essential pollinator of commercial crops and providers of honey and wax.
Apart form the man-made hives, they generally nest in the hollows of trees, which are constructed from wax. Each nest may contain thousands upon thousands of bees. Feed on nectar and pollen.
Seen early spring until late into the autumn. Found in a wide range of habitats, especially gardens. Nests usually found in woodland. Widespread and abundant. Native to Africa, the Middle East, and Europe. Populations have suffered depletion where non-native bees have been introduced. A recent threat here in Britain is the mite Varroa jacobsoni which has caused devastation to colonies after its introduction in 1992.
July 204 and 15, rear garden, Staffordshire. © Pete Hillman 2014 and 2015. Nikon D3200, with Sigma 105mm macro lens.
Both sexes have two yellow stripes on the thorax and one on the abdomen with a white tail. They have sparse hairs and the wings are darker. The facial hairs on the male are black. Size 15 to 19mm.
A cleptoparasitic bee of the nests of the Garden Bumblebee (Bombus hortorum).
Females searching for hosts to parasitise are seen in April to May. Males and females on flowers in July and August. Found in many habitats, including gardens. Not generally common, but widely distributed in southern England and in west Wales.
July 2013, local field, Staffordshire. Nikon Coolpix P500. © Pete Hillman 2013.
This is a wasp-like cuckoo-bee which has a black and yellow striped abdomen with reddish markings at the front, a reddish striped thorax, and red legs and antennae. Size 12mm.
Nomada flava is a cleptoparisitic bee of mining bees, where the female lays its eggs so the hatching larva will develop there, killing the host larva.
Seen April to May, and found in a variety of flower-rich habitats, including meadows, hedgerows, verges and gardens. Common and widespread in England and Wales.
May 2012, rear garden, Staffordshire. Nikon Coolpix P500. © Pete Hillman 2012.
On my walks through the wood yesterday I came across this Honey Bee nest in an old tree hollow. They were busy toing and froing, quite busy in their endeavours.
Photograph of Honey Bee (Apis mellifera) nest, taken October 2016, local wood, Staffordshire. © Pete Hillman 2016. Camera used Nikon D7200, with Sigma 105mm macro lens.
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.
Photograph of Common Carder Bumblebee (Bombus pascuorum), taken September 2016, rear garden , Staffordshire. © Pete Hillman 2016. Camera used Nikon D7200, with Sigma 105mm macro lens.
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.
This is one of the first bees I see in early spring, and I find it to be one of the most colourful. It’s a small, rather shaggy long-haired bee with a yellow stripe on the thorax and a yellow band across the abdomen, although this abdominal band maybe absent altogether in some workers. It has a distinctive orange tail. The tongue is fairly short compared to other bumblebees. Males have long yellow hairs on the face. The queen grows up to 16mm long, and the workers between 9 and 14mm long.
It often breeds above ground in old birds’ nests, at the bases of bushes, and in holes in trees. Also nests in old compost heaps, piles of plant detritus, or in holes in the ground. Nests are usually short-lived, and most only hold up to 100 workers. Strictly herbivore feeders, gathering pollen and nectar. A very good pollinator of flowers in general, but especially of soft-fruit flowers.
One of the first bees to appear in spring, hence the English name. Found in many habitats, and especially fond of gardens. Widespread and common in the British Isles. Often two generations are produced in the south.
Photographs taken July 2016, local park, Staffordshire.
Despite the heavy and persistent rains we have had here recently, it hasn’t stopped the magnificent bumblebees from visiting my garden. Clicking on the images below will reveal the species.
Photographs taken June 2016, rear garden, Staffordshire.