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Mossy bees and foggie bees

Mossy bees, Foggie bees, Fairy bees and Domestic bees – all wonderful bumblebees. One of the nicest things about doing the public events is hearing anecdotes about bumblebees, especially those from yesteryear.

The surprising thing has been the great variety of local names we have heard bumblebees called! Scotland has been a great source of local names for bumblebees, and we’ve heard them called Foggie-bees (‘fog’ is Scots for moss or grass) and Baker-bees. The latter is used to refer to the Common carder bee, whose brown colour is similar to the brown coats worn by bakers in the past (Thanks to the book Bumblebees: Naturally Scottish by Murdo Macdonald for this explanation).

All of this talk about the different names for our furry friends compelled me to research it further. The Oxford English Dictionary gave a short description of bumblebees, but the entry also indicated that humble-bee is also used. The entry for humble-bee reads:

Humble-bee: another term for bumblebee. Origin: late Middle English: probably from the Middle Low German hummelbē, from hummel ‘to buzz’ + ‘bee’.

So it appears that the name ‘bumblebee’ is derived from the loud buzzing associated with these bees, and that when people call them ‘humble-bees’, it is not in reference to their humble, hard-working nature, but their buzzing habits. Fascinating stuff!