You can help us support the

Early Bumble-
bee

All you need to know ...

Information

The early bumblebee is smaller than most bees you’ll see in your garden. These little bumblebees, plus many other animals and insects, are really important plant pollinators. The early bumblebee features a distinctive yellow banding and an orange tail tip, so can be easily spotted.

Bumblebee wings are amazing and can beat up to 130 times per second. This beating motion means that they can perform ‘buzz pollination’, which makes the flowers that they visit vibrate to release pollen. These bumblebees thrive in a variety of habitats, including gardens with nectar-rich flowers. The early bumblebee therefore plays a number of important roles:

  • Two thirds of the world’s crop species depend on animals to transfer pollen
  • Changes in the population gives us clues about issues related to the decline of other bees too

Early bumblebees live in colonies and have a reputation for creating nests in unusual places. Nests are most commonly located underground in old mammal nests, or in abandoned bird nest boxes.

  • Early Bumblebee eating nectar
  • Early Bumblebee hovering
  • Early Bumblebee nesting on the ground
  • Early Bumblebee - Queen
  • Early Bumblebee eating nectar
  • Early Bumblebee hovering
  • Early Bumblebee nesting on the ground
  • Early Bumblebee - Queen

The early bumblebee is one of the earliest bees to emerge from hibernation each year- usually around April.

HOW CAN I HELP?

There are lots of useful things that you could do in your Naturespace to help bumblebees. They use nectar-rich gardens as stepping stones between larger areas, so a vibrant garden with lots of flowers can help maintain their habitat. Even smaller outdoor spaces and window boxes can be a great refuge for these little bumblebees. The early bumblebee generally visits open flowers, with the queens frequently visiting rhododendron flowers in particular.


Naturespace actions you can take
  • Plant trees & shrubs for wildlife

    Provide the early bumblebee with food sources to help them thrive
  • Establish a flower-rich lawn

    Attract bees and other pollinators to your Naturespace
  • Plant flowers for pollinators

    Plant nectar-rich and pollen-rich flowers for pollinators
  • Put away the pesticides

    Find eco-friendly ways to look after your Naturespace
  • Pull up your paving

    Offer more green space for early bumblebees and other wildlife
Early Bumblebee

Vital Statistics

Scientific name: Bombus pratorum

Appearance: yellow and black banding across the body, with an orange/red tail that usually covers a small area (and is duller in comparison to the red-tailed bumblebee)

Queen: length 15 - 17mm, front of thorax yellow, first part of the abdomen usually yellow, distinctive orange tail

Male: length 11 - 13mm, distinctive orange tail, males have noticeably more yellow on their abdomen and also have yellow facial hairs

Worker: length 11 - 13mm, distinctive orange tail, the abdominal stripe on early bumblebee workers is less prominent and may sometimes be absent entirely

Early bumblebee

Habitat & Diet

The early bumblebee has a short tongue, so favours open flowers such as white clover, lavender, sage and hedgerow species such as blackthorn and bramble. Thistles and other daisy-like flowers are visited regularly. They are less inclined to visit flowers like honeysuckle that are narrow and tube-like.

They are an important pollinator of soft fruit, such as blackberries and raspberries.
Early bumblebee

Breeding

The nesting period of the early bumblebee is shorter than most bumblebees, with an average duration of 14 weeks. Nesting colonies will hold a maximum of 100 workers.

Queen bumblebees can be seen in flight as early as March, with workers and males first seen in April or May. In the south of England, two generations may occur in one year.

Help Support the Early Bumblebee

©Earthwatch 2018  

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Unless otherwise credited, all illustrations © Chris Shields, and all wildlife photographs © Steven Falk
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