Until not that long ago, I thought there were two types of bee – the honeybee and bumblebee. Well, how wrong I was. There are roughly 250 species of bee in the UK, and 24 of those are types of bumblebee. There is only 1 species of honeybee though, so that makes things a bit easier.
It has rained a lot today. Not just a bit of rain either! Torrents of water have been cascading down roads, flooding parts of my school and dampening spirits. Still, there was a brief spell this evening when the buckets of rain turned to a mere mizzle, so I pounced.
I went to a hidden gem of Streatham called The Rookery. Hidden behind Streatham Common, it is a well manicured oasis in a bustling part of town. There is an old well, a walled garden, a couple of ponds and LOTS of flowers.
I decided to have a go at Bee ID, being that I’m rubbish at it. I spotted a few different types, particularly on one flower bed where they all seemed to gather. This flower must be the bollocks when it comes to pollen.
Garden Bumblebee (Bombus hortorum)
‘This is Britain’s largest bumblebee with a long face and extremely long tongue. It strongly resembles the more widespread Small Garden Bumblebee (Bombus hortorum) with a yellow band either end of its thorax, a single yellow band at the top of the abdomen (often broken or faint) and a white tail, however its hair is shorter and ‘neater’ and the yellow bands tend to be duller and more mustard in colour. Also, unlike the Small Garden Bumblebee, it has a completely black form.’ – Friends of the Earth
I had thought these were Buff-tailed bumbles, but having studied some useful ID guides here, the extra band of gold above its er… bum, tells it apart. It also has a long face, not just when it’s raining.
Buff-tailed Bumblebee (Bombus terrestris)
‘A fairly large bumblebee with a dark yellow stripe at the front of its thorax, another at the front of its abdomen and a white coloured end to its tail. Workers can be very hard to separate from workers of the closely related white-tailed bumblebee Bombus lucorum but the queens can separated by having a buff tail rather than white and the males in having a black face rather than yellow.’ – Friends of the Earth
If I’m right about this one, and I think I am, the darker fuzz on its bum makes it a buff-tail. I tell you what, bumblebees must have a job to tell each other apart. I wonder how many buff-tails try mating with a white-tail, or a even garden bumble?
Common Carder Bumblebee (Bombus pascuorum)
‘One of our most common bumblebees, the Common Carder Bee emerges early in the spring and can be seen feeding on flowers right through to November. It is found in gardens, farmland, woodland edges, hedgerows, heathland: anywhere there are flowers to feed on. It nests in cavities, such as old mouse runs, in bird’s nests or in moss mats in lawns. A social insect, nests may contain up to 200 workers. The queen emerges from hibernation in spring and starts the colony by laying a few eggs that hatch as workers; these workers tend the young and nest. Males emerge later and mate with new females who are prospective queens. Both the males and old queen die in the autumn, but the new queens hibernate.’ – The Wildlife Trusts
There were fewer of these guys around, perhaps scared off by the larger buff-tails and garden bumbles.
I didn’t want to stop there, so I thought I’d dig up some photos I took last summer and have a go at Bee ID on them too. Turns out they were all honeybees… so that was easy.
Honeybee (Apis mellifera)
‘Honey Bees are well-known as hive bees: semi-domesticated for thousands of years to produce honey for human consumption. They may form colonies in the wild in wooded areas. As with other colony-living insects, the hive is split into a queen who lays eggs, the workers who look after the young and the drones who are reproductive males. The hive is made of wax ‘honeycombs’, each divided into a number of hexagonal cells that are used to rear young or store food such as pollen and honey (which is actually regurgitated nectar). The larvae pupate in the cell which is capped by wax until they emerge. The first new queen to emerge may sting following queens to death and will either take the place of her mother (who will leave with a swarm) or will create a new colony.’ – The Wildlife Trusts
All hail the glorious bee. Here are a list of interesting websites about bees for those of you who want to find out more. Especially good, are Louis Masai’s paintings.
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