Less common bumblebees
While it is less likely that these bumblebees will be seen, it is useful to know what they look like and where they can be found.
Some bumblebee species are only found in certain parts of the country. Others are found in many places, but are still not very common.
There are six cuckoo bumblebee species in the UK, see our Lifecycle page for more details. There are a few features that most cuckoo bumblebees have that set them apart from ‘true’ bumblebees. These include:
- Back legs that are covered in hair, with no pollen baskets – you will never see a cuckoo bumblebee with pollen lumps on its legs.
- Wings that appear dusky or dark.
Field cuckoo bumblebee Bombus campestris
The pattern can vary quite considerably, however females and males in the commonest form have two yellow stripes on the thorax and none on the abdomen. Some lighter forms do have a faint yellow band on the first segment of the abdomen. The tail is often a green-yellow and can be quite extensive, often reaching more than half way up the abdomen. Some males may be completely black. The wings are strongly dark tinged, with a dusky appearance.
Forest cuckoo bumblebee Bombus sylvestris
The pattern can vary, however the commonest form for both males and females includes a yellow stripe on the thorax and none on the abdomen. The tail is white but has a black tip that is more noticeable in males. Males also have a tiny orange/red tip to the tail.
Gypsy cuckoo bumblebee Bombus bohemicus
Females tend to have one pale yellow band on their thorax but none on the abdomen. Males may have sparse patches of yellow hair on the first segment of the abdomen. The tails are mostly white, but have yellow patches on the right and left sides. The wings often appear markedly dusky. This species is very variable and it is often not possible to confirm identification in the field.
Southern cuckoo bumblebee Bombus vestalis
Females and males usually have a single dark yellow band on the thorax. Some males also have additional yellow bands on the back of the thorax and first segment of the abdomen. The tail is mostly clean white, with a black tip. There is a broken light yellow band just above the tail. This species is very common in the south of England.
Barbut’s cuckoo bumblebee Bombus barbutellus
Both the females and the males have thick yellow bands on their collar. They both also have a fine fringe of yellow hairs on the rear band of the thorax. The abdomen may have faint bands of dull yellow hair. The tail is white. The wings have a dark, dusky appearance. Some individuals can appear very dark or almost completely black.
Red-tailed cuckoo bumblebee Bombus rupestris
The female has an all-black head, thorax and abdomen with an orange-red tail. The males share the same colouring but have some yellow hairs on the thorax and abdomen. However, the intensity of the yellow varies significantly, with some males looking very pale. The wings appear very dusky
“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