Posted by: lensweb | May 17, 2020

Help, there’s a bee-swarm in my bird box!

Bees have been in decline internationally due to use of chemicals, habitat loss and mysterious diseases. They are important pollinators of flowers, fruit trees and crops complementing the work of honey bees. When the European Tree Bumblebee Bombus hypnorum spread from mainland Europe to England it was welcome news to apiarists. These clumsy balls of fluff braved the squalls of the English Channel, and were first spotted in the New Forest in 2001 by Dr Ben Darvill, the director of the Bumblebee Conservation Trust.

There are 27 known bumblebee species in Britain, three are now nationally extinct and many others are seriously declining, but the Tree Bumblebee seems to be the one species that is spreading, with rapid colonisation of hollow trees, loft spaces and bird boxes thoughtfully provided by us humans!

Tree Bumblebees are most likely to be encountered in urban areas, churchyards and gardens. They have relatively short tongues and feed on shallow flowers including bramble, raspberry, cotoneaster, rosebay willow-herb and fruit trees, they seem to like flowers that hang down. They have a tendency to nest in holes in trees (which gave rise to their common name).

Fascinating Recording Surveys by the Bees Wasps and Ants Recording Society BWARS have followed the steady northward spread. It is now present throughout most of England and much of Wales. The first records for Long Eaton were in May 2011 when they were also seen in Sandiacre.  In 2013 it reached southern Scotland and its distribution has since expanded in the Scottish Lowlands and further north. In 2017 it was found for the first time in Ireland. It is thought that the Tree Bumblebee is not a threat to native species, as it relies on different plants and flowers.

The Tree Bumblebee, like all bumblebees is fat and hairy, it has a ginger thorax, black abdomen and a white tail. The white tail is really important as this species can easily be confused with the common carder bee (Bombus pascuorum) that is quite similar, but has a brown or black tail.

During May and June, Tree Bumblebees can be seen ‘swarming’ around their nest entrances, which can be alarming if they are nesting in your roof or garden! But it’s not a cause for worry. It is actually lots of males buzzing about, waiting for the queens to emerge so that they can mate with them. The males do not have stings, so are harmless. “Help, there’s a bee-swarm in my bird box, what should I do? No need for action, the colonies last for just a few weeks and then the bees move on.

Marion Bryce 17 May 2020


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