Finding Forest cuckoo bees

The summer continues with more guided bee walks – a great excuse for me to get outside and see some bees. Last weekend I delivered bee walks at Mugdock Country Park and Muckhart Nature Park.

At Mugdock I was helped by two of our volunteers, Ross and Shona. Interestingly, at Mugdock we found the usual bumblebees plus dozens of males of the Forest cuckoo bee (Bombus sylvestris) species. For those who haven’t heard of cuckoo bees before, they are bumblebees whose females invade the nests of other bumblebees, kill or subdue the queen, and use the original queen’s worker bees and food to raise her own offspring. There are six species in the UK and they can be common in some places.

Cuckoo bumblebee males can be quite variable in appearance, and on this day we saw the ‘typical’ form, which has a white and black tail with a red tip. We also found lots of another form which has a stunning yellow tail – see it in the video below. Males of all bumblebees tend to languish on flowers, feeding slowly and not looking like they’re in much of a rush. In contrast, the females (queen and worker bees) tend to always be hurrying from flower to flower; they don’t have any time to waste!



Bumblebee identification can be frustrating sometimes; especially when the bees don’t look how they’re supposed to look, according to the guides. My advice is this: practice, practice, practice! Practice with friends too, so you can discuss the identification and keep each other on the right path. To help people learn how to identify bumblebees, we have worked with the University of Aberdeen to create a training tool for our website. You can try identifying the bumblebees in the photos, and be told if you get the right or wrong answer. To visit that, click here.

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