Posted by: Ross Gardner | February 28, 2012

Bumblebees

This week the bumblebee season got underway at Meadowfield Centre for Environmental Education (a new name plus a new wesbite) and therefore also the 4th year of my bumblebee survey on the site.  Since 2009 I have been counting bees, recording their foraging habitats and generally trying to gain a deeper insight into the bumblebee populations on the site.

They are insects that are struggling in the UK.  Most species require a substantial network of flower rich habitat and so have suffered severely as our wild places have been lost or degraded.  In recent years we have had a couple of extinctions and numerous declines, the latter even with some of our more common species.  I don’t expect my survey will prove to be at the cutting edge of bumblebee conservation, but you never know what little nuggets of useful information might be obtained.  Even if not, they are a most interesting and rewarding group of insects to study.

Tree Bumblebee (Bombus hypnorum). Copyright 2009 Ross Gardner

The first record for 2012 was surprisingly a worker or the common Buff-tailed Bumblebee (Bombus terrestris).  It is only the new queens that over-winter, with the previous year’s colonies breaking down in the autumn.  Obviously it is most often the queens that provide the initial sightings.  Having mated before entering hibernation, they spend their earliest days of emergence replenishing their own energy reserves before seeking out a suitable site in which to nest and raise the first batch of workers.  To see a worker on February 24th would mean a queen was active somewhere closeby at least two or three weeks ago, perhaps even earlier, back in January.  There have been some weather hardy bees around this winter.

I did see a queen Buff-tailed queen soon after, today in fact, along with a queen Tree Bumblebee (Bombus hypnorum): a recent coloniser back in 2000 and now firmly established in southern parts of the UK, not least Hockley in Essex.

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