Following on from my other enthralling posts about grasshoppers and bush-crickets, here is one about bumblebees. I always used to think there were two sorts of bee: honey bees and bumblebees. I later thought there are two sorts of bumblebee: buff-tailed and red-tailed. However, it turns out that there are loads of bumblebees: about 25 species in the UK, although some of them are rare. Like the grasshoppers, bumblebees can be tricky to identify as they vary according to whether they are male or female or what kind of female they are: queen or worker. There are also considerable variations within species while some different species look the same as each other: see the first one below which is impossible to positively identify from a photo, or at least my photo. I got myself an excellent book recommended by Emily Heath* and submitted records to Beewatch, which has tools for identification as well as well as adding to national distribution data. Like the orthoptera scheme they also email you with confirmation of whether you got it right or not. I saw seven confirmed species of bumblebee in Bedfordshire over the summer, six of those in Sandy, and four in the garden.
I have followed the book’s practice of using the scientific name of each species as there is no consistency in common names. And it saves me some hassle. I have also noted whether each species is a social bumblebee (queen, workers, and males living in a nest a bit like a honey bee hive) or a cuckoo bumblebee (only females and males: the females take over social bumblebee nests whose workers raise the cuckoo female’s young). I never dreamt that such things as cuckoo bumblebees existed.
Bombus vestalis or Bombus bohemicus
A cuckoo bumblee, but uncertain precisely which species it is. These two species are very difficult to tell apart without catching them and examining them properly. From the photo, the Beewatch people could not be definite which it was. In Sandy, just off Sunderland Road.
A social bumblebee. In Sandy, in the garden.
The buff-tailed bumblebee, a social bumblebee. In Sandy, in the garden.
A cuckoo bumblebee. In Sandy, near the station.
Tree bumblebee, a social bumblebee. First seen in the UK in 2001. In Sandy, in the garden.
Bombus campestris (probably)
A cuckoo bumblebee. In Willington (between Sandy and Bedford).
A social bumblebee. In Sandy, in the garden. Beewatch confirmed the first picture and I’m pretty sure about the id for the male (ginger beard and very round body), which makes it the first time I’ve seen a male bee and known it was a male.
* Edwards and Jenner. Field guide to the bumblebees of Great Britain & Ireland. 2005