You may like to use this identification chart which has all of the common species.
For most species, worker females have the same colour patterns as the queens, but are smaller. Males sometimes look similar to the queens and worker females, but usually have more yellow hair, especially on the head and thorax.
To view photos of each species, visit our photo gallery. See the bottom of this page for a video on identifying the common species.
If you would like to take part in any of our bumblebee monitoring surveys, visit our survey pages here.
Buff-tailed bumblebee Bombus terrestris
Queens, workers and males have a dirty/golden yellow collar near the head and one on the abdomen. The queen’s tail is an off white/buff colour which can sometimes appear orange. The workers have a white tail with a subtle buff line separating the tail from the rest of the abdomen. Unlike many species, the Buff-tailed male’s facial hair is black, as opposed to yellow. Males have a buff-tinged tail.
White- tailed bumblebee Bombus lucorum
Queens, workers and males have a yellow band on the thorax and on the abdomen. On a fresh specimen, the tail is a bright white and the yellow bands are a bright lemon-yellow colour. The males have yellow hair on their head, and extra tufts of yellow hair on the thorax and abdomen.
Garden bumblebee Bombus hortorum
The same pattern is shared by queen, worker and male: three yellow bands (at the front and rear of the thorax and a third band at the front of the abdomen). The tail is a clean white colour. The face is distinctly long, differentiating it from other species with similar banding, such as the Heath bumblebee. It is a very long tongued species that prefers flowers with deep tubes.
Early bumblebee Bombus pratorum
Queens, workers and males have a yellow band on the thorax and abdomen. The abdominal yellow banding is less pronounced or missing in workers. The tail is often dark orange-red, and may fade with time. Because the colour on the tail is restricted to the final segment, it can be difficult to see while the bee is moving. Early bumblebees are a particularly small species and the workers are markedly smaller than other foraging worker species appearing in the springtime. Males have a broad yellow collar that wraps around the thorax, and yellow hair on the face.
Common carder bee Bombus pascuorum
Queens, workers and males are almost completely brown or ginger. However, the shade varies significantly, depending on the location. Some have abdomens which are very dark, while the abdomens of others can be quite light. It is the only common UK bumblebee that is mostly brown or ginger.
Red-tailed bumblebee Bombus lapidarius
Queens and workers have a distinctive black body with an orange-red tail. Males have distinct yellow facial hairs and a yellow band on the thorax with a black abdomen and a bright orange-red tail. The hairs on the pollen baskets (on the hind legs) of the female are all black, but these may be red in males. It is very similar to the much rarer Red-shanked carder bee but the hairs on the pollen baskets of females of the latter species are red.
Tree bumblebee Bombus hypnorum
Queens, workers and males all have a black head, brown-ginger thorax, black abdomen with a white tail. The proportion of white on the tail does vary significantly but is always present. This species was first found in the UK in 2001, but is now found throughout most of England and Wales. It prefers to nest above ground, often inhabiting bird boxes. There is more information about the Tree bumblebee and its fascinating nesting habits in this article written Clive Hill (click here to download the article - pdf 650kb).
Heath bumblebee Bombus jonellus
Queens, workers and males have three yellow bands, with one at the front of the abdomen and two on the thorax. The mainland variation also has a white tail whereas the Western Isles and Shetland form has an orange/buff tail. The colouration is similar to that of the Garden bumblebee, but the face in this species is round, whereas that of the Garden bumblebee is long. This bee is also smaller than the Garden bee, but this is generally only noticeable in queens. The common name of this species is misleading, because it can be found in gardens, parks and other habitats.
Click play on the video below to watch a guide on how to identify the common species of bumblebee, produced by BBCT volunteer Cathy Clarke.
You should now be able to identify almost all of the bumblebees you'll ever come across! If you don’t recognise the bee you have seen from the ones above, it may be one of our more scarce bumblebees. While not common in most areas, these may be found in certain habitats. Click here to go to our page with the less common bumblebees.
“Few people realise just how important bumblebees are. They are charming little things and a pleasure to see, but they also do an essential job which many people take for granted. If bumblebees continue to decline then we face ecological turmoil. Join BBCT today and support their important work.”
Naturalist, Television presenter
and BBCT President