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
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.
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
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.
It may be found in gardens, parks, and along the wildflower edges of woodlands.
Bombus hortorum usually makes its nest underground.
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.
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.
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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