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.

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.