Feel the buzz

Red tailed bumblebee © Jon Hawkins SurreyHillsPhotography

Bumblebees are one of our most familiar and endearing garden insects. Hearing their distinctive buzz and watching them dance from flower to flower epitomises a perfect summer’s day, and they are also vitally important pollinators.

Our top tips below should give you a helping hand to identify five of the most common bumblebees you might see this spring.

White-tailed bumblebee 

The white-tailed bumblebee is a very common bumblebee that emerges early in the spring and can be seen right through to the autumn. It can be found in gardens, farmland, woodland edges, hedgerows and heathland: anywhere there are flowers to feed on. As the name suggests, it has a white tail as well as a yellow band on the thorax and on the abdomen. The markings are similar to other species, such as the buff-tailed bumblebee, so look for their bright white tail.  

Tree bumblebee 

The tree bumblebee is a relatively new arrival to the UK. First recorded here in 2001, it is slowly spreading north throughout the country. It nests in cavities such as bird nest holes in trees, bird boxes and roof spaces. The tree bumblebee visits a wide range of flowers, particularly those of soft fruits such as raspberries and bramble, and shrubs. Tree bumblebees have a distinctive appearance with brown/orange hairs on the thorax, a black abdomen and white tail. 

Buff-tailed BumbleBee c Jon Hawkins Surrey Hills Photography

Buff-tailed bumblebee 

As the name suggests, this bumblebee is named after the queen’s buff-coloured ‘tail’. This common species is attracted to many types of flowers, though its short tongue means it dislikes deeper flowers. The queen, male and workers all have a yellow collar near the head and another on the abdomen. The queen and the males have an off-white/buff colour ‘tail’ while the workers have a white ‘tail’ with a faint buff line separating the tail from the rest of the abdomen.  

Red-tailed bumblebee 

Red-tailed bumblebees emerge in early spring and feed on flowers right through to the autumn. The female red-tailed bumblebee is a very large black bumblebee with a big red ‘tail’ and pollen baskets on its hind legs that are fringed with black hairs.  

Common carder bee 

Common carder bees are medium-sized with a long tongue. They emerge in early spring and can be seen feeding on flowers right through to November. The workers visit a variety of flowers, especially legumes, thistles, knapweeds, brambles and comfreys. They nest in cavities, such as old mouse runs, in bird nests or in moss mats in lawns. They are a social insect and their nests may contain up to 200 workers. The common carder bee is almost entirely brown and orange, sometimes displaying darker bands on the abdomen. 

Find out more about helping your local bumblebees and how to identify them at: hiwwt.org.uk/wildlife-explorer 

Nature Notes

In light of the coronavirus outbreak, maintaining a connection with the natural world is more important than ever, to ensure we're taking good care of our health and wellbeing. We know that people who spend time in nature are happier and healthier, but it can be difficult to know how to do this safely in the current climate. The Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust have lots of tips and resources on their website that can help you, as well as wildlife during this time, from doing yoga in the garden to growing your own vegetables. The weekly wellbeing blogs also offer a useful framework to help us connect to nature during lockdown, providing advice on taking time out.

Nature at home – provide water for wildlife

Water is essential for wildlife to thrive, but it is not just for drinking they also need it for bathing. By keeping a topped-up birdbath or even leaving a bowl of water on the floor outside, you could attract a variety of birds and may see other animals too. Hedgehogs, foxes and butterflies also seek out places they can find clean water, and by placing water at different levels and settings, you’ll attract different creatures.

If you want to go the extra mile, hang a drip jug above your water source – this will attract more birds as they hear the sound of dripping water.