Getting to the bottom of the bumblebee question

30 Jul
Echinacea with a white-tailed bumblebee

Hard at work: Echinacea with a white-tailed bumblebee

Have you looked at a bumblebee’s bottom recently? The question is not as strange as you might think. It can be a simple way to identify the common species – and it’s good to know what kind off bees you’ve got.

You may not have realised, but bumblebees and honey bees are not the same thing at all. Honey bees live together in large numbers and make and store ‘commercial’ quantities of honey to feed their colony, while bumblebees live in small groups, so don’t make very much at all.

But bumblebees have other skills. Honey bees all have the same length of tongue, whereas bumblebee species all have different lengths, which means they can pollinate many more types of plant.

And, unlike their honey-making cousins, bumblebees will come out in the rain, which means they go on working even when we’re having a rotten summer like this one.

Unfortunately, as you probably know, bumblebees are in decline and if we don’t protect and nurture them, we’ll have an ecological nightmare on our hands. Without them, we would lose a huge number of vital plant varieties.

The greater the range of plants in your garden, the wider the range of bumblebees that can thrive and go about their business. However, they need to be traditional cottage garden plants, as they’re full of nectar and pollen.

Amanda’s had me on bee watch in the garden recently and so far I’ve spotted six different species:

  • Red-tailed, which have red bottoms
  • Common carders, which are brown all over like miniature teddy bears
  • White-tailed, with wide white bottoms
  • Buff-tailed, with pale fawn bottoms
  • Garden bumblebees, with pointy white bottoms, and
  • Early bumblebees, which are small with rusty bottoms and usually gone by June.

Not a bad total, I think you’ll agree.

Traditional cottage garden plants

Bees’ paradise: Some of Wordsworth House’s traditional cottage garden plants

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