The Garden Bumble Bee - Bombus hortorum

Updated: 25th February 2020

The Garden Bumble bee, Bombus hortorum, has the longest tongue of all British bumble bee species, and it is one of only two remaining long tongued bumble bee species that are thought to be widespread. 

Having a long tongue means that it is a very useful pollinator of flowers with gullet, bell and funnel and flag type florets, and this means they are helpful pollinators of the bean and pea family, as well as clover (alfalfa), which is an important crop for cattle.  See my page flower border for bees for further information about different flower shapes.

Identifying Bombus hortorum

According to Ted Benton’s book, Bumblebees, queens can be variable in size, although the ones that I have come across have been on the larger size.  The range described in Benton’s book is 19-22mm.  The Field Guides To The Bumblebees of Great Britain & Ireland by Edwards and Jenner describes the Garden Bumblebee as “a large, robust species although early workers may be much smaller”.  This is in line with my personal experience.

Garden Bumble bee, <I>Bombus hortorum</I> on jasmine flower.Garden Bumble bee, Bombus hortorum on jasmine flower.

Garden Bumble bee, <I>Bombus hortorum</I> - (queen) on spring kale flowers on the allotment.Garden Bumble bee, Bombus hortorum - (queen) on spring kale flowers on the allotment.

Queens, workers and males all have two yellow bands on the thorax and one at the base of the abdomen, and a white tail.  The face is long.  One of the easiest ways to identify the Garden Bumblebee is by observing it as it approaches a flower, often with its very long tongue extended.

It can sometimes be mistaken for Bombus jonellus, which has a shorter face and is usually smaller, or Bombus ruderatus which is a rarer species.  The latter may have ginger hair on the mandibles.

<I>Bombus hortorum</I> has a long tongue.Bombus hortorum has a long tongue.

Bombus hortorum habitat

It may be found in gardens, parks, and along the wildflower edges of woodlands.



Nests

Bombus hortorum usually makes its nest underground.

Garden Bumble bee, <I>Bombus hortorum</I> on jasmine flower.Garden Bumble bee, Bombus hortorum on jasmine flower.

Colony Size And Life Cycle

The queens emerge from around March onwards, and you may see them prospecting for nests between March and early May.  Colonies tend to have around 100 workers.  Males tend to appear around June.


Garden Bumble bee, <I>Bombus hortorum</I> on yellow wallflower.Garden Bumble bee, Bombus hortorum on wallflower.

Predators and parasites

Colonies may be attacked by the cuckoo bumble bee species, Bombus barbutellus.  Other parasites include tachinid fly, Brachicoma devia, and the conopid fly, Physocephalus rufipes.


a Conopid fly perched on pink hemp agrimony flower. It's a small dark fly with pale muddy yellow markings on its arched abdomen.Conopid fly

Flowers

These bumble bees will feed on comfrey, dead nettles, apple, vetches, nasturtium, flowering currant, foxglove, knapweed, delphinium, thistles, mallow, bramble, honeysuckle, lavender, bluebell, aquilegia, daffodil, aubretia, flowering currant, and ceanothus among others.




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