An exciting sighting: Queen bee!

I saw a large bumblebee on the Fatsia in the garden yesterday (see photo below). Late in the year to see a bumblebee, I thought.

Bombus terrestris queen bee in our garden, 22 November 2006

Then I remembered an article I had read in a recent newsletter of the Bumblebee Conservation Trust. It said:

“Since the late 1980s in the south of England, buff-tailed bumblebees have started to appear throughout the year. Queens can be seen in November, and workers are quite common in December and January, collecting pollen from garden shrubs, particularly Mahonia spp. It seems that this species has adapted to the combination of exotic garden plants that provide flowers throughout the year together with increasingly mild winters, and has become more or less continuously brooded. More of the country can expect to see bumblebees at Christmas if the climate continues to warm as predicted.”

So, I wondered whether the bee in our garden could be a buff-tailed bumblebee queen. I decided to ask bumblebee expert Professor Dave Goulson of the Bumblebee Conservation Trust. He has just replied:

“It is, as you correctly identify, a queen terrestris. It is very late in the year to see one so far north (I heard of a worker in Nottingham last week). It seems that the winter terrestris that have been seen on the south coast for some years are spreading north – keep an eye out for workers on Mahonia in December/ January!”

Very interesting!

We have a large Mahonia outside our kitchen window, so I shall be keeping a beady eye on it come December/January.


One thought on “An exciting sighting: Queen bee!

  1. With regard to bumblebees in winter, I have been monitoring them locally this winter in south London. Very frequent in winter here, all Bombus terrestris ssp.audax (the British sub-species of the buff-tailed bumblebee) , and very dependent on winter-flowering plants being available in gardens, as there is nothing for them in the open countryside. Interesting to hear that this behaviour is showing as far north as York.

    Autumn-winter colony cycles are a normal part of the behaviour of B. terrestris in Southern France, where it uses the autumn – flowering Strawberry Tree (Arbutus unedo) as its main pollen and nectar source.

    I encountered no evidence of any other bumblebee species maintaining winter colonies.

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