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Attracting bumblebees and making artificial
bumblebee nest sites in the garden
Seven species you might meet in the garden
Workers hatched early in the year are much smaller than later siblings.
Yellow striped with
White-tailed, with extra yellow stripe on
Bombus horortum Bombus lucorum
White-tailed with no
All black body with
red tail and red hair fringing hind legs.
Small sized. Flying from April - September
No stripes, usually all brown, but quite
variable. Small sized and late flying June-October
Bee watchful . Observing a year in the life of a
Flight of the bumblebee
Flying takes up a lot of energy - a third of bumblebee's daily
1. Early spring - Solitary Queen bees emerge from hibernation -
energy intake is spent foraging for more nectar and pollen. By
these are the large bumblebees seen during February - March.
repeatedly 'shivering' their muscles and with their furry 'woollyjumper'-like bodies, bumblebees can stay warm and active on
2. Queen looks for a likely nest site such as an old mouse nest
cool overcast days. Some bumblebees even live north of the
or grassy tussock, familiarising herself with the area.
3. In the nest the queen lays her eggs, having kept them
A stinging comment
throughout the winter. The first workers emerge, more eggsare laid and hatch, until colony numbers 200-300. Some
The sting is modified ovipositor (egg laying tube) and so present
only in the female bumblebees. They very rarely sting however,even when handled, but may do so if the entrance to their nest
4. The first unfertilised eggs are laid and these develop into
is obstructed. Unlike honey bees, stinging is not fatal for a
bumblebee - she can fly away and sting again another day.
5. New queens and males leave the nest. Males patrol a
chosen 'patch', leaving scent marks and looking for queens tomate with.
6. Autumn - Original queen bee, workers and males die. New
queens, with their fertilised eggs go into hibernation.
Northumberland Wildlife Trust
Planting for bees
30 Plants popular with bumblebees:
Early and late flowers, together with some bee favourites, will give a long
supply of nectar. Planting in dense drifts; bees learn to recognise certain
nectar - rewarding flowers and will revisit these repeatedly. Some bees
have preferences for certain flower forms:
and Bombus lucorum
- Short open flowers e.g White
Clover, Comfrey, Field Bean. Both are hole-biting 'nectar robbers' (see
below.) B. terrestris
rarely visit pendulous flowers - its large size means it
- has a long tongue so can visit flowers with petals
forming long tubes such as Honeysuckle, Delphiniums and Catmint.
- another large bee which likes to land on flowers with
horizontal massed 'platforms' e.g. Daisy family, especially Knapweeds.
- small agile size and medium-length tongue means it
can probe a range of flower depths; able to visit upside-down and droopingflowers such as Comfrey and Bugloss.
- long-tongued for long-tubed flowers, especially late
flowers of White deadnettle, but also visits a wide variety of flowers. Male
bees seem to visit compound daisy-like flowers (e.g Marsh Thistle) more
Nectar 'robbing': a free lunch …?
The Buff-tail bumblebee is a big heavy bee with a short tongue that can't always gain access to smaller, pendulous or tubular
flowers - so it cheats! It nibbles a hole in the base of flowers such as honeysuckle and clover and sips up the nectar without
entering the flower. Other bees and insects may buzz along and use the hole afterwards. Surprisingly this behaviour can actually
help pollination - because other bees are then forced to visit even more flowers than they would normally for their nectar.
Making a bumblebee nest for the garden
Building a bumblebee box
In a clay flower pot
palace fit for a Queen
By the end of April, half bury a 9"/225 mm
deep clay flowerpot in a dry, well drained,
Queen bumblebees build their nests in old
By the end of April, dig a hole in a dry,
level. Heat insulation and avoiding dampness
are of great importance and sometimes nests
(25-30 mm wide) to the drainage hole.
bedding, dry grass, straw, or upholsterer'scotton (not cotton wool.)
Place bedding material such as dry grass,straw, or upholsterer's cotton (but not cot-
Cover over the rest of the pot with soil or
vegetation so that the pipe sticks out.
cover over with e.g turf, logs or a paving
Plant a 10 cm tall stick upright nearby -
bees may use this as a 'marking post' tohelp them find their way back to the nest.
Plant a 10 cm tall stick upright nearby asa 'marking post' to help bees find theirway back to the nest.
of the bumblebee
Bumblebee buzz is generated by air forced
Winter hibernation spots
In late summer the colony's new Queen bees need to find themselves somewhere tohibernate. They dig themselves a shallow subterranean chamber in which to stay untilthe following spring. This is often dug into loose soil in a cool north facing bank. Try providingplaces like this for hibernating Queen bumblebees in your garden in quiet, undisturbed spots.
Copyright Northumberland Wildlife Trust 2005
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