Garden pollinators for PAW no. 6 – Buff-tailed bumblebee (Bombus terrestris)

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It would be impossible to write a series of blog posts about garden pollinators for Pollinator Awareness Week without considering the bumblebees (genus Bombus) and I intend to devote the last two posts to that group of bees.  The bumblebees are arguably the UK’s most important pollinators of both wild and crop plants, certainly later in the season when colony numbers have increased. Earlier in the season it’s the solitary bees such as the Orange-tailed mining bee that are predominant.

Although common and widespread in gardens, the Buff-tailed bumblebee (Bombus terrestris) belongs to a group of bees in which the workers are rather variable in appearance and can be very difficult to distinguish from those in the Bombus lucorum group, which includes two other species (B. cryptarum and B. magnus).

This is a truly social species with an annual nest comprising workers and a queen.  Nests are founded by queens that have mated the previous year and hibernated.  They usually choose old rodent nests in which to begin their colonies, which is why they are sometimes found in garden compost bins.  An interesting question that I’ve not seen answered is whether the queens actively displace mice or voles from such nests: does anyone know?  This association between bumblebees and mice led Charles Darwin and Thomas Huxley into some speculation as to the role of spinsters in the British Empire.

In my garden the Buff-tailed bumblebee pollinates a range of crops including strawberries, squashes, courgettes, blackberries, runner beans, french beans, tomatoes, and raspberries.  As the photo above shows they also visit the flowers of passion fruit, where they seem to be more effective than the smaller honey bees and solitary bees.

Buff atil on Lambs ear cropped July 2015 P1120289 copy

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9 Comments

Filed under Bees, Biodiversity, Charles Darwin, Ecosystem services, Gardens, Honey bees, Pollination, Urban biodiversity

9 responses to “Garden pollinators for PAW no. 6 – Buff-tailed bumblebee (Bombus terrestris)

  1. Steve Hawkins

    I saw a film some time ago, where they were trying to monitor the range of bumblebee foraging, but most of the nests were wiped out by mice.I also did a series of photos as bumblebees built a nest beside the compost heap. I could even dip into their little pots of nectar, but, once the grubs started to develop, the whole lot disappeared, and I think it likely that the mice got them too.  ( Under the heap there are always piles of cherry, damson, and hawthorn stones, so there are plenty of woodmice.)Cheers for the great series. I think my favourites are the mini bees that can fit inside red hot poker flowers, and seem especially fond of stonecrops. They carry so much pollen in their leg pouches that it seems amazing they can still fly!Steve Hawkins From: Jeff Ollerton’s Biodiversity BlogSent: Saturday, 18 July 2015 10:42To: steve.a.hawkins@ntlworld.comReply To: Jeff Ollerton’s Biodiversity BlogSubject: [New post] Garden pollinators for PAW no. 6 – Buff-tailed bumblebee (Bombus terrestris)

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    jeffollerton posted: ”

    It would be impossible to write a series of blog posts about garden pollinators for Pollinator Awareness Week without considering the bumblebees (genus Bombus) and I intend to devote the last two posts to that group of bees.  The bumblebees are arguab”

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Garden pollinators for PAW no. 7 – Tree bumblebee (Bombus hypnorum) | Jeff Ollerton's Biodiversity Blog

  3. I love bumblebees. They seem to be having a break from my garden at the moment after having their fill of phacelia. I didn’t know that some species lived in bumblebee communities.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Love that first photo of the bee with the passion flower. I wonder why more bumbles don’t nest in trees like the Tree bumblebee does, it seems so risky nesting down on the ground where badgers and mice can get at them.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thanks Jeff, this has been a very interesting series of posts.

    Liked by 1 person

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