Another Exciting Bee Sighting (and another first for York!)

We had our first snow of the winter yesterday. And it snowed again today. So the last thing I was expecting to see this lunchtime was a bee. However, as I looked up from the grill where my cheese on toast was bubbling nicely, a small bumblebee was exactly what I did see, on the mahonia in front of our house.

Worker Buff-tailed bumblebee on mahonia in front of our house, 24.1.07

It was the first bee I’d since my Exciting Sighting of a Queen Buff-tailed Bumblebee on 22 November. And I don’t recall ever having seen a bee here in January before. Bee expert Professor Dave Goulson identified today’s bee for me as another Buff-tailed bumblebee, (Bombus terrestris), but a worker rather than a Queen. Just as he’d predicted in November:

“Keep an eye out for workers on Mahonia in December/January!”

This made me go back to the Bumblebee Conservation Trust’s Buzzword newsletter, and the article I’d read there on the Bumblebee Life Cycle. And what did I read there?

‘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.’

So, mine was a textbook worker buff-tail bumblebee sighting – except of course that we are in the north of England, not the south. Interesting …

I asked Prof. Dave Goulson about this, and this is his reply:

‘They seem to be spreading northwards at quite a rate, which is why we are asking for records. Prior to this year the furthest north we had was London, so York is quite a jump!’

So, another hymenopteran first for York! (See my World First for Yorkshire: Berberis sawfly larvae post of 28 October for another York first.)

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