I was lucky enough to attend a bumble bee identification workshop this week. There are around 250 bees in the UK, of which 24 are bumblebee species found in the UK.
What an array of bees we have on this isle! From chestnutty high-shrilling Carder Bumblebees to long nosed Garden Bumblebees and their shorter nosed fellows the White-tailed, Buff-tailed and Red-tailed Bumblebees. A diversity of colours, sizes and buzzes.
Bumblebees are distinctive by their round, furry bodies. They are slightly larger than honey bees and have a lot more hair.
When trying to identify which species of bumblebee you have found, it can be helpful to look at key features including colouring, banding, size, antennae and sound.
Garden Bumblebees have a longer nose (with a longer tongue to collect pollen from flowers with particularly tubular shapes). They also look like they’re wearing a belt!
Buff and white-tailed are apparently hard to differentiate until you get them under the microscope.
Female bumblebees tend to have less hairy legs than the males and also have perkier antennae, whilst male antennae have a tendency to droop! Females also tend to buzz a lot more. The more energetic of the species perhaps?
Out in the meadow and community orchard we put our spotting to practice with some butterfly nets, clear pots and a sensititve ear. We caught a French newly, the Tree Bumblebee, which has distinctive white-stripes, the Common and Moss Carder Bee, the Garden Bumblebee as well as many Honey Bees around the blackberry flowers.
According to Sinead of the Bumblee Conservation Trust, we need to help our bumble friends. 24 species are found in the UK but two species have become exitinct over the last 80 years and others have declined dramatically.
As gardeners we can do several things.
Firstly, we can plant out Bumblebee friendly crops. Bumblebees drink nectar and feed upon pollen so any pollen and/or nectar rich plants are recommended. All members of the pea family, dead nettle, clover vetch and knapweed are particular favourites but there is a whole array of plants to choose from.
Secondly, we can help protect and extend habitats pollinators like bumble bees love. So this includes orchards, hedgerows, meadows, lets, grassland and verges … as well as gardens of course!
Thirdly, we can encourage our parks and local authorities to also plant in more pollinator friendly ways. For example, without using pesticides or herbicides and reducing the amount of mowing.
Finally, we can also help by monitoring species. And the bumblebee conservation trust are always looking for help with their Beewalks and Beewatches.
Find out more about bumble bees …