Sunday, 6 June 2010


The bank holiday weekend finally brought out the bees. Up until then the garden has been a bit quiet even though there are loads of alliums for the bees to enjoy. But, the sun is out and the chives are in full bloom and maybe it is just the right time of year - whatever the reason the garden is full of bees.

Honey bees and bumblebees on Allium Globemaster

If you are curious and keen to find out which bees are in your garden you should start with the Natural History Museum's (NHM) quick guide to the six most common bumblebees. It prints out to a handy wallet size guide. If you have the seventh most common bee then if is worth getting a copy of Field Guide to the Bumblebees of Great Britain and Ireland - by Mike Edwards and Martin Jenner. 

Bees bodies are made up of three parts: head, thorax and abdomen. You need to check each segment - where the stripes are, how many stripes and what colour. This guy has one yellow stripe where the thorax meets the head and a broken yellow stripes where the abdomen meets the thorax and finally an orange tail at the end of the thorax. According to the NHM guide this makes it a female Bombus Pratorum.

This little guy has very similar markings but the abdomen stripe is not broken and the tail is white. I'm pretty sure this is a female Bombus Lucorum although B. Terrestris is very similar....and that is the problem, some bumblebees look very similar. The only way to be absolutely certain is to check, with a hand lens or microscope, things like their sting sheath and spines on their legs. 

But some Bumblebees are very easy to identify.

This one is totally black except for that bright orange tail, which makes it a female B. Lapidarius.

head longer than it is wide

head as long as it is wide

Head size and shape, plus the colour of their facial hair is also used by the experts to help identify one bumble from another. In the picture above you can also clearly see the bee's three ocelli in a straight line (between the eyes) - which detect light intensity.

The length of a bees tongue is also important to which plants it can feed on. Long tongued bees can reach in to tubular flowers to suck up the nectar. However, some short tongued bees steal the nectar by punching a hole in the base of the flower. While that is good for the bee the flower gets short changed. It gives away its nectar without getting pollinated.

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