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Feature Creature - Bumblebee

Credits: Jon Hawkins Surrey Hill Photography

In the spring, the big, fuzzy queens of buff-tailed BUMBLEBEE - the largest in the UK and one of the earliest to wake up - start to emerge from hibernation. Have you spotted some of these beautiful insects on the move?

Fantastic facts:

 

*Number of types: about 25 in the UK      *Enemies: other insects, mice, birds

 

*Favourite foods: nectar and pollen      *Super powers: mind control of their workers!

 

*How long they live: usually one year   *Latin name: Bombus terrestris (bumblebee of the earth)

 

What are these fuzzy minibeasts and what can they do? Bumblebees are:

 

Good mums

 

The word 'bumblebee' makes you think of big, clumsy, balls of fuzz that bump into things and make a loud humming noise. Bumblebees are in fact giant, royal mothers that look very different to the worker bees you are more likely to see in the summer. When they wake up in the spring, they need to find the sugary nectar of the first spring flowers. Then they begin to search for a cosy nest site to raise their huge families.

 

You might spot them zig-zagging across the ground, looking for old mouse holes or clumps of grass to make their nest in. They then lay their first small batch of eggs and incubate them - a bit like a bird would! The buzzing noise you can hear as they fly isn't their wings flapping, but the vibration of their flight muscles working hard to keep them in the air. They use this same movement to keep their eggs warm.

 

Want to know more about bumblebee flight? You can watch David Attenborough's Life in the Undergrowth video about the queen bumblebee and her first spring flight on the BBC website.

 

Sometimes tricked

 

Cuckoo bees, like their bird namesake, prowl for the nests of bumblebees instead of setting up their own. When they find a colony, they overthrow the rightful queen and take her place as the colony leader!

Powerful hormone signals trick the worker bees into thinking she is their mother, and they continue to collect and hoard treasures for her as well as raise her babies. Very crafty!  

 

 

 

 

 

 

Important

 

The colonies of worker daughters bumblebees create spend their lives collecting nectar and pollen to feed their queen and new baby sisters. As they buzz around the countryside, busily visiting flowering plants, they transfer some of this pollen between flowers. This pollination is essential for plants to produce seeds and fruits, allowing them to produce youngsters of their own. This is great news for the plants, but also important for animals and farmers which rely on plants for food and crops.

 

Struggling

 

Without enough flowers to feed their colonies, bumblebees cannot survive. Changes to the Uk's countryside over recent years have resulted in fewer wildflower meadows, grasslands and hedgerows, and so fewer food plants for the bees to harvest. Numbers have fallen, and many species once found all over the UK are now hanging on in only a few places. Two types have even become extinct in the UK.

 

But there are things you can do to help. Back gardens can be the perfect havens for these nectar hungry insects. Just as you might plant a variety of colourful, sugar rich flowers to attract butterflies, bees will return to gardens with nectar on offer. Download our activity sheets to help bumblebees in your garden:

 


Build a bumblebee nest

 









Grow a bee and butterfly garden










Leave your garden wild









Grow a mini garden meadow




 

 


Want to learn more about bees? Take a look at the species pages of the red-tailed bumblebee, common carder bee and white-tailed bumblebee!

 

Too afraid to get up close to a bee and watch its behaviour? Have a look at the video below for a slow motion view of a feeding bumblebee!