Red-tailed bumblebee

Latin name: Bombus lapidarius red-tailed bumblebee

When: April to October

Where: Gardens, arable areas, disused railways below 200m

The hum of a bumblebee in your garden is one of the most relaxing sounds of summer. It could be one of a number of different species of bumblebees that favour our gardens and farmland, and play such an important part in pollinating our fruit and wildflowers. Take a close look. If it is black with a foxy-red tail it is likely to be a red-tailed bumblebee.

The first red-tails to emerge in spring are the queens. They are the stay-a-beds of the bumblebee world, waiting for up to a month after the white-tails and buff-tails to wake from their winter hibernation. Once they are up and about they will start to build up a new colony. The first eggs to hatch are her infertile daughters, whose job it is to help to build the hive and feed the new larvae with pollen and nectar.

Later in the summer some of the larvae will become males, while some become new queens. The males do no work around the nest – their job is to mate with the new queens from other nests. Unlike the queens and workers, they have a couple of yellow bands (one broad, one narrow) on the back, and a patch of yellow fur on the face. The males have a raw deal! They do not come back to the security of the nest at night, and can often be found ‘roosting’ underneath flower heads. However, they are excused the duty of collecting nectar and pollen, so spend their days drinking nectar, and looking for new queens. As autumn approaches, the old queen, workers and males die off, while the mated daughter queens find new hiding places underground to sleep away the winter until the whole process can begin again.

Find out more at:

Bumblebee Conservation Trust

Any natural place contains an infinite reservoir of information, and therefore the potential for inexhaustible new discoveries.

Richard Louv, Last Child in the Woods