Posted by: Ross Gardner | February 24, 2014

The spring begins to emerge, but not from an exactly icy grip of winter.  It was the sight of bumblebees that has prompted this post, as welcome as usual after their winter absence, but with something less of the fanfare than might be expected; although this was the first time this year I had seen them in number, I have seen odd ones, on and off since the New Year.  The weirdness of our climate these days, I guess. And will the winter arrive for a cameo and a brief reminder of what we missed?

Even so, the return (proper) of our bumblebees is, as I said, most welcome.  Apart from a single Early-nesting Bumblebee (Bombus pratorum), they were all Buff-tailed (Bombus terrestris) that I came across at the weekend, maybe as many as a dozen busy around the copious blossoms of a few small Prunus.  It is a bit early to find bumblebees in any number quite so early and a plentiful source of nectar is crucial for these queens emerging from hibernation and well in need for an energy boost.  This group of trees seemed like the centre of the bumblebee universe, at least down in this corner of  the Essex countryside.

And should the winter come back for that late blast, bumblebees are pretty well equipped.  Even those that might already be tending the inaugural off-spring of their colony to come have their ways and means.  Some bumblebee queens are known to ‘unhook’ their wings (!) and use their flight muscles to generate extra heat for their eggs during cold weather and they will also procure a small stash of honey in a waxen pot in order to provide food to their larvae during rough weather when they are unable to forage.  Two more reasons right there to think of the bumblebee as a rather amazing little creature.

Buff-tailed Bumblebee (Bombus terrestris).  Ross Gardner 2013

Buff-tailed Bumblebee (Bombus terrestris). Ross Gardner 2013



  1. Thought I saw a bumblebee yesterday in our garden, but wondered if too early should frosts return. Do they like witch hazel, because our little tree is covered in lovely yellow blossom! Is there a particular habitat I can fix around the garden to encourage the bee?

  2. Witch-hazel is apparently well liked by bees, so not only are they nice to look at tasty to bee tongues as well. As far as encouraging bumblebees in the garden goes, they will look to found colonies where there is a plentiful supply of nectar. Nest sites can vary between species, but can include old mouse-holes, old bird’s nests and crevices in trees and for the last two years we have had a Tree Bumblebee (Bombus hypnorum) nest in the eaves of the shed! Common Carder Bees (B. pascuorum) make their nests at or close to the ground, building them from combed (or carded) moss.

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