Above: Bombus Hortorum feeding from nasturtium in my garden 2013.
The Garden Bumblebee, Bombus hortorum, has the longest tongue of all British bumblebee species, and it is one of only two remaining long tongued bumblebee 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.
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.
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 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.
B. hortorum usually makes its nest underground.
Colonies may be attacked by the cuckoo bumblebee species,
Bombus barbutellus. Other predators can include tachinid fly, Brachicoma devia, and the conopid fly, Physocephalus rufipes.
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.
These bumblebees 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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