Queen

Buff-tailed Bumblebee Bombus terrestris

This is a queen Buff-tailed Bumblebee Bombus terrestris which visited the garden. She had obviously been very busy and was dusted in pollen. I think she was tired and needed a rest, and she didn’t like me getting too close and disturbing her as she kept sticking up her middle legs, warding me off I guess.


May 2019, rear garden, Staffordshire, England. © Pete Hillman.

Bumbling Beauties

Tree Bumblebee Bombus hypnorum

I find the Pyracantha such an amazing climber come shrub or even hedge depending on how you trim and train it, it is so versatile. In the autumn it produces masses of succulant berries which the birds feed on, and in the spring there is an abundance of white flowers which attract all kind of insects like flies and bees. I have quite a fondness for bees, especially bumblebees.  This is the Tree Bumblebee Bombus hypnorum.

Tree Bumblebee Bombus hypnorum

Tree Bumblebee Bombus hypnorum


May 2019, front garden, Staffordshire, England. © Pete Hillman.

Red-tailed Bumblebee Bombus lapidarius female

Red-tailed Bumblebee Bombus lapidarius female

Click once to expand view, click again to get that little bit closer


August 2018, rear garden, Staffordshire, England. © Pete Hillman.

Bumblebee and Bugle

Common Carder Bumblebee Bombus pascuorum

Common Carder Bumblebee Bombus pascuorum


Double click on images to enlarge.


One of my very favourite bumblebees, the Common Carder Bumblebee Bombus pascuorum which is carrying quite a full load, and Bugle Ajuga reptans, which has come into flower.

May 2018, rear garden, Staffordshire, England. © Pete Hillman

Common Carder Bumblebee Bombus pascuorum

Common Carder Bumblebee Bombus pascuorum

Common Carder Bumblebee Bombus pascuorum

Common Carder Bumblebee Bombus pascuorum

I love bumblebees, and this is one of my favourties.

September 2017, rear garden, Staffordshire, England.

Red-tailed Bumblebee Bombus lapidarius

Red-tailed Bumblebee Bombus lapidarius male

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.

Red-tailed Bumblebee Bombus lapidarius male

Red-tailed Bumblebee Bombus lapidarius male

Red-tailed Bumblebee Bombus lapidarius male

August 2017, rear garden, Staffordshire, England.

Buck Bumble Stops By

Tree Bumblebee Bombus hypnorum

It was a hot sunny afternoon and I sat by the pond sipping some cider when this rather rude fellow came and sat down right beside me.

He immediately began sticking out his tongue, and I said, “Hey, Buck. Do you have to do that right here and right now?”

“I sure do,” he said, sticking out his tongue so far out of his head I thought it might drop out.

“But it is rather rude, don’t you think?” I replied, feeling somewhat repulsed and putting my can of cider down on the deck.

“No, not at all,” the bumblebee said, curling and wriggling his sticky tongue.

Tree Bumblebee Bombus hypnorum

Then something quite extraordinary happened. I thought I was on the set of another remake of The Thing when one tongue became three!

What the heck … I thought, and said. “Do you really, really have to do that, as well?”

The sun beat down, flies buzzed and a vibrant blue damselfly floated over the sparkling water of the pond to settle on the sword-like leaf of an Iris.

“I sure do,” he repeated, but it was hard to make out what he was saying with all that odd tongue business going on.

Tree Bumblebee Bombus hypnorum

“But is it really necessary? I am trying to have a nice sit down and enjoy a nice drink of scrumpy. It is rather off-putting, you know.”

“I sure do. I have to keep it in tip-top condition. I apologise, but grooming is very important to us bumblebees.”

Tree Bumblebee Bombus hypnorum

I mellowed a little, and picked up my can of cider and said, “I guess that’s fine then. Quite a neat trick the three in one thing.”

I dare not repeat what he said, but with that it buzzed off and left me there sitting on the deck pondering over what just happened.


Please click on the images for a larger more detailed view. Clicking again gets you closer still.


Tree Bumblebee (Bombus hypnorum), rear garden, Staffordshire, England. June 2017.

The Bumblebee And The Geranium

Early Bumblebee Bombus pratorum

I have always had a soft spot for bumblebees since I was a child which has never waned, but has actually deepened as I have got older. This bumblebee is one of my favourites and is called the Early Bumblebee (Bombus pratorum). I am always taken by the bands of yellow and the bright orange tail, although the middle band can be absent in some workers.


Early Bumblebee (Bombus pratorum) on Pencilled Crane’s-bill (Geranium versicolor), rear garden, Staffordshire, England. May 2017.

Tree Bumblebee

Bombus hypnorum

Tree Bumblebee Bombus hypnorum

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.

Tree Bumblebee Bombus hypnorum

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.

Vestal Cuckoo Bumblebee

Bumblebee Bombus vestalis

Vestal Cuckoo 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.

Vestal Cuckoo Bumblebee Bombus vestalis

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.

Vestal Cuckoo Bumblebee Bombus vestalis

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.

Vestal Cuckoo Bumblebee Bombus vestalis

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.

Vestal Cuckoo Bumblebee Bombus vestalis

Vestal Cuckoo Bumblebee Bombus vestalis


June 2007, front garden, Staffordshire. © Pete Hillman 2007.

Common Carder Bumblebee

Bombus pascuorum

Common Carder Bumblebee Bombus pascuorum

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.

Common Carder Bumblebee Bombus pascuorum

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.

Common Carder Bumblebee Bombus pascuorum

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.

White-tailed Bumblebee

Bombus lucorum

White-tailed Bumblebee Bombus lucorum

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.

White-tailed Bumblebee Bombus lucorum

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.

White-tailed Bumblebee Bombus lucorum

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.

Garden Bumblebee

Bombus hortorum

Garden Bumblebee Bombus hortorum

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.

Garden Bumblebee Bombus hortorum

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.

Garden Bumblebee Bombus hortorum

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.

Garden Bumblebee Bombus hortorum

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.

Barbut’s Cuckoo Bumblebee

Bombus barbutellus

Barbut’s Cuckoo Bumblebee Bombus barbutellus

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.

Barbut’s Cuckoo Bumblebee Bombus barbutellus

A cleptoparasitic bee of the nests of the Garden Bumblebee (Bombus hortorum).

Barbut’s Cuckoo Bumblebee Bombus barbutellus

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.

Barbut’s Cuckoo Bumblebee Bombus barbutellus

July 2013, local field, Staffordshire. Nikon Coolpix P500. © Pete Hillman 2013.

Buff-tailed Bumblebee

Bombus terrestris

Buff-tailed Bumblebee (Bombus terrestris)

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.

Buff-tailed Bumblebee (Bombus terrestris)

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.

Just Hanging On

Common Carder Bumblebee (Bombus pascuorum)

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.

The Pea And The Bumblebee

Photograph of Broad-leaved Everlasting-pea (Lathyrus latifolius) and the Common Carder Bumblebee (Bombus pascuorum)  taken August 2016, Bournemouth, Dorset. © Pete Hillman 2016. Camera used Nikon D3200, with Nikon 70-300mm telephoto zoom lens.

Red-tailed Bumblebee

Bombus lapidarius

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.

Early Bumblebee

Bombus pratorum

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.

Bumbling Around

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.