Identifying bumblebees

Buff-tailed Bumblebee (Bombus terrestris)

  • Large bumblebee, which is often the first species to emerge each year
  • All bees have a golden-yellow collar behind the head and on the abdomen
  • Queen's tail is an off-white/buff
  • In workers the tail is white with a small buff line where it joins the black abdomen
  • Males have a black face and buff tail

Common Carder Bee (Bombus pascuorum)

  • Can be seen late in the year, often into November
  • All bees are almost completely brown or ginger
  • The only common bumblebee that is this uniform colour
  • But shade can vary - some have dark abdomens, some have light

Early Bumblebee (Bombus pratorum)

  • Relatively small, short-lived species often nest in tit boxes
  • All bees have yellow bands on the thorax and abdomen
  • But abdominal band is much less obvious in workers
  • Dark orange-red tail that may fade with time and can be hard to see when moving
  • Males have a yellow face and wide yellow collar

Garden Bumblebee (Bombus hortorum)

  • Reputation for nesting in 'unsuitable' places such as inside lawn mowers and buckets
  • All bees have clean white tail and three yellow bands - at front and rear of thorax and on the - abdomen
  • Very long face
  • Has the longest tongue of any UK species so prefers flowers with deep tubes

Red-tailed Bumblebee (Bombus lapidarius)

  • Workers can be very small, similar to a house fly
  • Queen and workers have a distinctive black body and orange-red tail
  • Males have a yellow face and yellow band on the thorax
  • Prefer flowers with a distinct landing platform such as dandelions and daises

White-tailed Bumblebee (Bombus lucorum)

  • All bees have lemon-yellow bands on the thorax and abdomen and a bright white tail
  • Males have extra yellow hairs on the head, thorax and abdomen
  • Workers are extremely difficult to distinguish from buff-tailed bumblebee workers
  • Short tongues, so will bite a hole in the corolla of deeper flowers in order to reach the nectar inside

Tree Bumblebee (Bombus hypnorum)

In the last ten years a new species of bumblebee has spread from Europe throughout England. First found in the UK in 2001, the Tree Bumblebee can now be a common sight in gardens. It is easily identified by its black head and abdomen, brown-ginger thorax and white tail. Giving them their common name, tree bumblebees prefer to nest above ground in holes in trees and will often use empty bird boxes.

Posted in: Bees on 16 April 2015

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