Scarce ‘true’ bumblebees

Blaeberry bumblebee  Bombus monticola

Queens, workers and males all have two yellow bands on the thorax but none on the abdomen. The yellow is bright and often straw-coloured. However the rear band on the thorax is less pronounced. The orange-red tail colouring extends over more than half of the abdomen. This species is usually associated with upland moors but may also be seen in habitats close to these.

Broken-belted bumblebee  Bombus soroeensis

Queens, workers and males have one lemon yellow stripe on the thorax and one on the abdomen. The yellow abdominal band is preceded by a black one. One of the important features which helps to separate this species from others is that the yellow band tends to reach around the sides of the first abdominal segment. The tail is white with a dirty yellow-orange tinge separating the yellow and the black, but in some specimens the orange hair is more prevalent, particularly in males. The common name ‘broken-belted’ is unhelpful, as the yellow abdominal band is usually unbroken.

Ruderal bumblebee  Bombus ruderatus

Queens, workers and males typically appear striped, with two thick yellow bands on the thorax and one on the first abdominal segment. The yellow varies from a bright lemon to a more ‘dirty’ shade. The colouring and width of the yellow banding is extremely variable. The hair is quite short and even, giving the bee a very ‘neat’ appearance. The tail is dull white, but some variations of this species are completely black.

Brown-banded carder bee  Bombus humilis

Queens, workers and males have a ginger thorax, but with a few black hairs that are visible on close examination. These black hairs are usually close to the wing bases. The abdomen more pale yellow, but usually has a faint band of slightly darker hair on the second segment.

Moss carder bee  Bombus muscorum

Queens, workers and males have an entirely ginger brown thorax. The abdomen also varies from a lemon yellow to a ginger colouring, but with no black hairs. This species can appear similar to the much more prevalent Common carder bee, but the latter species always has some black hair on the thorax or abdomen, while the Moss carder bee has none, except on the underside. Be aware that Common carder bees in Scotland have few or no black hairs so identification is very challenging.

Red-shanked carder bee  Bombus ruderarius

Queens and workers are black, with a red tail and orange hairs on the hind leg. The males however quite often have faded dull yellow bands on the thorax and subtle dull yellow hairs on their faces. This is difficult to spot in the field.

“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.”

Chris Packham
Naturalist, Television presenter

Chris Packham
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