Posted by: Ross Gardner | March 29, 2017

The never humble bumble

Whilst walking the other day and enjoying the many and various delights of spring’s beginning getting into full swing it was the bumblebees, on this occasion, that caught the imagination the most.  To read the natural history texts of the late-19th/early 20th century would find mention of the humblebee, as was the term back in those days.  I am quite sure nothing derogatory was implied by the name.  Indeed, rather than being drawn from any perceived lowly position within the web of life, it has been suggested and without to much of a leap of conjecture, that it could have been derived from the Latin term humus (the earth, ground) or humi (on the ground) as an observation of many species tendency to nest under, on or near the ground.  It might even have simply been a reference to the loud humming sound they make when they fly.

Whatever is the truth of the matter, humble they are not.  They are, after all and like many other insects, the pollinators of many a food-crop.  And while they might not create quite the architectural wonders of the wax-sculpting honey bees and the paper-forming wasps, their own rather more homely jumble of waxen cells still allows the wonders of insect society to develop and flourish just the same.

The queen bumblebees are on the very pictures of seasonal diligence during these early weeks of spring.  Having mated the previous year before going into hibernation, they emerge first to feed and replenish and then to search out a place to found a colony.  For some this will be a hole in the ground, for others perhaps dense, grassy tussock.  Hence we see them scouring the ground and searching among the topographies of the landscape invisible to mere human eyes.

Bombus terrestris

The pollen-smothered Buff-tailed Bumblebee queen (Bombus terrestris) might seek out an old mouse-hole for a nest-site. Ross Gardner 2015.

Bombus hypnorum

The Tree Bumblebee (Bombus hypnorum) prefers to nest away from the ground, such in the cavities of trees and even vacant bird nest-boxes. Ross Gardner 2009.

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