These large colourful insects are familiar to most people and in particular to gardeners who often work along side them as they tend their blooms. Experienced gardeners will inform you that bumble bees rarely  sting you {unlike wasps}, and I can personally testify that during  my life time of countless forays into the countryside, examining flowers closely, with the humming of these fascinating creatures reverberating around me, I have never been stung by a bumble bee.

Life style of a bumble bee

The life cycle commences with the queen of the species emerging from hibernation, which occurs between March and May depending on the species. Locally this usually occurs in the second or third week in March although this is dependent on the prevailing weather conditions and geographical factors.

Two species, Bombus terrestris and Bombus pratorum are two of the first species to emerge. The queen needs to build up her strength for the coming season and to accomplish this task she relies on early pollen produced by early spring flowers and tree blossom. Once she has gained her required strength she seeks out a suitable nest site. During this quest they are often seen flying close to the ground. This may be in grassland, or along stone walls and the bottom of banks. Which ever the situation chosen it must be warm and well insulated. Some species will nest below ground while others will choose to locate the nest  in old birds nest, bird boxes, others as in the case of Bombus hypnorum in trees and shrubs.

Inside the nest the queen will construct a pollen "ball". This task will take about two weeks. On this she will lay a few eggs which will eventually form the first workers of the colony. 

Larvae to adult

Larvae go through a series of moults known as instars, ultimately forming a cocoon in which to pupate. Within a matter od days the fully formed workers will emerge. These workers set about the task of making new cells, feeding other larvae and keeping the nest inhabitants fed by making regular forays to visit nectar bearing flowers. The queen will continue to layeggs. Workers that emerge later in the season are much larger  than the ones that emerge in spring.

New queens that emerge from cocoons mate before they go out to forage  for themselves, building up fat reserves which will see them through hibernation. Locations chosen for this hibernation varies from banks, rotting trees or underground in grassland.



Bombus lapidarius

Bombus rupestris

Bombus ruderarius

Bombus pratorium

Bombus terestris.

Bombus locorum

Bombus hypnorum { click on the content banner TREE BEES}

Bombus jonellis

Bombus muscorum

Bombus hortorium.


Bombus barbutellus

Bombus bohemicus

Bombus vestalis

Bombus sylvestris

Bombus campetris. 

The Six most common bumblebees most people will encounter

Bombus terrestris---------------Queens, males and workers have a single yellow stripe on the front thorax, one on the abdomen preceded  by a black stripe, the tail is of a dirty white colour or buff, but occasionally may be orangey. it is a common and wide spread species with the exception of the far north where they are relatively scarce, especially in northern Scotland.

They are found in a variety of habitat including gardens. Queens emerge from hibernation very early in the spring {Late March in northern England.} The nest is usually , but not always made underground.} Mature nests may be home to as many as 300 workers. They feed on a variety of flowers. The tongue is medium length. 

Bombus lucorum----Common and widespread found in many habitats and a regular garden species. This is another species where the emerging queens may be encountered in early spring.

The queens and workers and some males have a single yelloe band on front thorax and one on the abdomen, the abdomianl band is preceded by a black band. The tail is white.

It is a large and robust species although the workers may be smaller. The nest is made in a variety of situations usually underground but always under cover. A mature nest can contain200+ workers.

Bombus hortorum--a widespread species found in many habitats and as its name suggests a regular garden visitor. The queens, workers and males have yellow bands on the thorax and one at the base of the abdomen. The tail is white. The tongue is very long.

The nests are made in a variety of situations, usually underground, but always under cover. nest searching queens may be encountered from March until early May. One of the two common species that visit the flowers of Foxgloves on a regular basis.

Bombus lapidarius---widespread and may be encountered in many habitats. They seem to be particularly fond of yellow flowers but are also regularly seen on knapweed and scabious. The queens and workers have black heads, thorax and abdomen with an orange red tail which is less than 50% of the length of the abdomen. Males have facial hairs  which are yellow, thorax have yellow bands, abdomen black the tail orange red. The tongue is medium length.

Emerging queens may be seen from April until late May in northern England, as early as March in southern England. The nest may be encountered in open situations, underground or wall cavities. Mature nests are large  and frequently contain 150+ workers.

Bombus pratorum.-------Widespread and may be encountered in a variety of habitat. A regular garden visitor where it feeds on a wide variety of plants often visiting shrubs such as bramble. It is considered a good pollinator of soft fruit flowers, being short tongued.

The queens and workers and males have one yellow stripe on thorax and one on the abdomen the latter preceded by a black band, the tail is orange. Males have distinct facial hairs. It is a small species especially so the workers. Queens emerge in spring another species which may be encountered very early in the season.The nest may be situated at ground level such as at the base of a shrub or underground or in the holes of trees. Mature nests are relatively small with fewer than 100 workers.

Bombus pascorum {carder bumble bee } Wide spread and found in a diverse range of habitat. A regular garden visitor Often seen visiting foxgloves but also plants such as those of the pea and bean family, and dead nettles.

Queens workers and males almost entirely pale ginger brown with variable patches of black hairs on the abdomen. There are also black hairs among the ginger on the thorax. Males facial hairs are of a ginger brown colour.

The queens emerge in April in northern England, March in the south. The nest is sited in a number of situations usually on or just under the ground. The bees collect moss to build a cover for their nest. Mature nests are medium to small in size around 100 workers.

Did you know this about bees ?

Bees feed on nectar and gather pollen

Bumble bees have tongues {glossa} which is specialised to suck up nectar via a capillary action. At rest or when flying the tongue is kept inside a sheath folded under the head and thorax.

A bumble bee does not have ears and it is not known how a bumble bee can hear sound waves passing through the air, however, it is known that they can detect vibrations of sounds through wood and other materials.

Bees are important pollinators of crops and flowers.

There are 250 species world wide.

In Britain there are 19 species of native true bumblebees and six species of cuckoo bees. Of these three have already become extinct, eight are in serious decline while only six are common and widespread. 

Finding dead bumble bees.

Among the flowers and shrubs favoured by bees you may well encounter dead bees during late August until late September. There can some times be quite a few dead bees encountered at a time.Sad those this may seem, there is nothing to worry about and is quite natural. The bees have come to the end of their natural lives, only the new Queens will hibernate and survive the winter.  they are found in such places because it is still their natural instinct to find food even when they are coming to the end of their lives. For more information visit the Bumblebee Conservation website via the Links banner.

Help map out bumblebee distribution.

The Bumble Conservation Trust is appealing for members of the public to help map out the distribution in the UK of bumble bees. A new web tool has been developed to make this task much easier. To read more or to get involved click on the links banner on the right hand side of this page and scroll down to Bumblebee Conservation Trust, click this is a direct link to the website home page. The more people get involved with this exciting project the greater the results will be.

Neonicotinoids implicated in the death of queen Bumblebees. September 2014

According to Buglifeuk.org Neonicotinoids have been implicated in the worst case of wild bee poisoning which has come to light in the UK.  500 Queen bumblebees have been found dead or dying in April. They were found by Sheila Horne  in Havering in East London by a field of oil seed rape, which was planted in 2013

The seeds of the said crop were treated with  imidacloprid insecticides. Sheila reported the finding to local naturalist Tony Gunton who discovered that a generation of Queen bees were dead or dying .He recognized them as being queens from three separate species.

They were sent off to be tested and the results from the governments scientific agency and the results have just been published. It shows that the bees were contaminated with high levels of the imidaclopic neonicotinoids a partially banned neonicotinoid insecticide and two types of fungicide which will be completely banned in October.

To read more click on the links banner on the right hand side of this page. scroll down to the Bugllife box. Click this is a direct link to Buglife website. Click on the news section. 

Should I be worried about a nest in my garden?

The answer is no. Visit the link below to the Bumblebee Conservation web page. This will give you all the advise you need on the subject {including Tree bees}


Did you know ?  Hibernation.

Did you know that bumble bees can hibernate for up to nine months of the year.That is almost three quarters of their lives. Going into hibernation saves the Queen from the  rigors of life above ground, with the risks of predation,diseases and starvation.

To hibernate the queen digs into well drained soil usually on north facing banks, because if it were south facing they would be exposed to the low winter sun,which could warm the soil and bring the queens out of hibernation before the spring has arrived. Digging in banks also helps to reduce the risk of flooding . They dig down about 10 cm {4 inches} more and excavate a little hole or chamber  in which they will spend the winter,surviving temperatures of  -19 degrees centigrade.

To read more,and to see a video of the a queen digging, visit  --


Recognising queens of the Early Bumblebee

The Early Bumblebee, Bombus pratorum Queens,can be identified by several features. Like the Buff-tailed Bumblebee they have two yellow bands on the body, one near the head and one across the middle. The middle band often has a break near the center. However, the tail  of this species can be very hard to see because the red colouration usually only covers the tip of the tail. The Queens of this species are also much smaller than those of the Buff-tailed bumblebee. This species also completes its lifestyle very quickly with nests sometimes producing new queens by early summer {hence the common name}. 

These new queens don't go into hibernation but set up new nests of their own. Workers of this species look similar to the Queens,but are smaller and the yellow band in the middle of their bodies can be a much duller yellow or missing completely so they appear quite dark.

Courtesy of the Bumblebee  Conservation Trust.

Recognising the Common Carder bee

The common carder bee is one of the easiest to recognize. It is the only common species which has a general ginger colouring. There are other similar species however, they are much rarer. They have a ginger or brown thorax. The abdomen is variable but generally of a ginger/brown colour, but sometimes brown or black. Older bees however, may fade in colour to yellow or even white.The Queens ,workers and drones of this species are all similarly coloured.

Do not confuse with the Tree bee which also has a ginger thorax however that species has a black abdomen and a white tail, the common carder bee never has a white tail. Courtesy of the Bumblebee Conservation Trust.

Recognizing the Great yellow Bumble bee,Bombus distinguendus.

Although once found throughout the UK,it is now restricted  to the Scottish Highlands and Islands, where it thrives in the clover rich Machair habitat. The Queens,workers and males of this species all look similar,they are all yellow with a black band across the thorax.

No other bee regularly look like this although the males of the White-tailed bumblebee,and the Field Cuckoo bee can occasionally have a much more intensive yellow colouring of hairs than normal specimens. 

Courtesy of the Bumblebee Conservation Trust. 

Bombus distingeundus  Courtsey James Lindsey.CC BY-SA 3.0 License.


Bombus lucorum drone - Belgian Ardennes.jpg

Identifying  the White tailed bumble bee complex. December 2016

Here we look at three very similar species sometimes referred to as the white tailed bumblebee complex. The three species in this complex are the White tailed Bumblebee Bombus lucorum the Northern white-tailed bumblebee, Bombus magnus and the Cryptic bumblebee Bombus cryptarum.

All three were once thought to be a single species, however, recent use of genetic techniques has proven that, indeed, they are three separate species  the three species share a common appearance  with the Queens and workers having two bright yellow bands. One near the head the other on the abdomen and a clean white tail. Workers in particular can be confused with those of the buff-tailed bumble bee species Bombus terrestris.

Males however, are distinctive because they tend to have more fluffy yellow hair on the thorax and abdomen and yellow hair on the head. In contrast buff-tailed bumble bee males do not have yellow hair on the head.

Courtesy of the Bumblebee Conservation Trust.  Visit the site to get more help on identifying bumblebees and much more information. 

Bumblebee  did you know ---Courtesy of the Bumblebee Conservation Trust.

Did you know that bumblebees can forage in cold weather and in the rain, and did you know that bumblebees have smelly feet and that they leave a temporary scent on the flower that they have just visited. other bumblebees use these scent marks to avoid landing on a flower that has no nectar left in it. Amazingly these super efficient foragers can figure out how long the nectar takes to refill and associate this with the strength of the scent of the flower thus avoiding wasting any precious time.                                      Image courtesy of Aileen O' Regan.


Click on the link at the top of this page Introducing BWARS, This page is a summary of the work carried out by BWARS Bee Wasp and Ant Recording Society. {Britain}


Click on the link banner at the top of this page British Entomology and N. This page introduces The British Entomology and Natural History Society.


Links---Bumblebee Conservation Trust 

Links  My green logo [DESIGNERS} 

Links-Plight of the Worlds Bees a Threat to World Food. Click on the links banner at the top of this page . Scroll down to relevant box. Click this is a direct link to the article. Updates are added  to the article as they occur. pesticides and other  chemicals etc.

Bumblebee Conservation have moved addresses. The new address is -

Bumblebee Conservation Trust 

Beta Centre

Stirling University Innovation Park

FK9 4NF 

For bumblebee identification visit       



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