Bombus hypnorum (the Tree Bumblebee) is a relatively new arrival in Britain from continental Europe where it is widespread. Sightings were first reported in 2001 in Hampshire and Wiltshire in the south of England. However, it is increasingly being recorded in other areas of the UK, from London, as far as Northumberland and throughout Wales.
Queens emerge from hibernation around February to March. By June, colonies will probably have produced males, and a second colony may even be produced.
Bombus hypnorum may be found in a variety of habitats, which range from gardens and allotments, to parks, woodlands, meadows and roadside verges if they are sufficiently abundant in flora.
Tree bumblebees tend to nest in holes, usually elevated from the ground – not surprising given the common name for this species! They hence prefer cavities in trees, but will also nest in a compost heap or occupy an empty bird nest box. They may also occupy cavities in buildings and roofs.
Below is a short piece of footage showing a tree bumblebee nest in our compost heap. The bumblebees flying around the entrance are males carrying out nest surveillance - it is sometimes referred to as a 'drone cloud' (in my experience, the public sometimes call it a 'swarm').
The males are patrolling the nest entrance area, hoping to pounce on and mate with newly emerging queens as they leave the nest.
Males cannot sting.
I would like to thank Valerie Ferman, who sent me this lovely video of tree bumblebees going in and out of a nest they had built in her compost heap. Valerie actually had 3 nests in her garden in Kent: 1 in the compost heap, 2 in the roof!
It seems Valerie's garden is a haven for wildlife generally, not just bees!
Tree bumblebees are not the only bumblebees that will occupy a bird box - Bombus lapidarius for example, will also sometimes nest in a bird house.
Below is an image of a blue tit box which has become the site of a Bombus hypnorum nest. Several males are patrolling the entrance.
This video below shows the male bumblebees, again on nest surveillance, around the entrance of the bird house.
Seeing all these bumblebees flying around the nest entrance like this is often the first point at which people notice the nest. However, whilst some people feel intimidated by this sight, as stated earlier, males cannot sting.
Nevertheless, if a bird box is attached to a house wall and close to a door, the vibrations can disturb the bees, which have been observed to 'fly at' the disturbance, causing some alarm.
Your options are to:
More information about the above approaches and bumblebee nests in bird houses here.
I am not aware of any studies in this area, but from personal observation, it seems the Tree bumblebee appears to forage on a wide range of flowers in gardens and parks, as well as herbs and wildflowers.
Sedum, bramble, manuka, geranium, rosa rugosa, fruit trees, teasels, crocus, dandelion, knapweed, purple loosestrife, and many, many others may be visited by this species. Visit my lists of plants for bees.
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