Posted by: Ross Gardner | March 20, 2013

Optimism and Bumblebees

This most wintry March that I can remember for a while continues.  The forecast for the next few days for my home county of Essex is for struggling temperatures and even the possibilty of a bit of snow at the weekend.  The spring has stalled somewhat.  Stalled, but not retracted.  I’d like to think that that point has been reached were it cannot fully recoil, even in the face of the most unseasonal of conditions.  I have seen woods with the leaf-litter greening with bluebell leaves; teambanks with clumps of celandine and the odd yellow bloom winking into view should the sun shine sufficiently to cause them to open; the first unfurling leaves on the branches of hawthorn.  I don’t think I’m being particularly over-optimistic to hope that when the more typical climes return things will be quick to continue their surge towards the spring.

Of the smaller creatures, it is often the bumblebees that are the first to respond to the milder weather.  Near Bristol yesterday I met with the Tree Bumblebee (Bombus hypnorum) for the first time this year.  With a thorax covered with ginger hairs, with those on the abdomen black with white ones on the tip, they are rather distinctive.  A remarkable thing about these bees is the speed with which they have spread through the UK since first appearing as recently as 2001 down in the southern counties of England.  I have seen all over Essex and even had them nesting in the back garden last summer.  This was the first I had personally seen this far west, but by the end of 2011 they had very nearly colonised all of England and a far chunk of Wales.  If you ask me, that’s pretty good going in the space of just 10 years.

A queen Tree Bumblebee (Bombus hypnorum).  Copyright 2009 Ross Gardner.

A queen Tree Bumblebee (Bombus hypnorum). Copyright 2009 Ross Gardner.

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