The Tree Bumblebee

Last week at The Old Forge I saw and photographed a new species; new to me and new to the British Isles.

Tree Bumblebee (6)

The tree bumblebee (Bombus hypnorum) is a recent arrival to these shores – first recorded in Wiltshire in 2001.  Since then it has spread quickly throughout England, Wales and southern Scotland.  As they are common throughout mainland Europe as far north as the Arctic Circle, bumbleologists (a word I’ve just made up) were puzzled why they weren’t present in the UK.

Tree Bumblebee (4)

Well, they’re here now.  A hibernating queen might have arrived on an imported plant but the English Channel isn’t too wide for a bee to fly across … especially with a following, favourable wind.

Tree Bumblebee (2)

This particular worker was busy feeding on the flowers of Hydrangea petiolaris.

They get their common name from building nests in tree-holes and will readily use a bird nest box.  Nesting high up they don’t compete for sites with our mostly ground nesting, more familiar bumbles.  (If you do find a colony in your garden’s tit-box the advice is – leave well alone.  The colony will die out naturally within a few months … and you’ll interfere with it at your peril.  Tree bumblebees are aggressively defensive if their nest is disturbed.  As am I).

Tree Bumblebee (3)

They are unlike any other British bumblebee and very easy to identify: an orange or reddish thorax, black or dark grey abdomen with a noteworthy white tip or tail.  Given the sorry state of our other bee populations, I think we should welcome them with open arms as a useful and energetic pollinator.  Of course, there is a worry that a new species might have unforeseen consequences for our existing ‘British’ bees but, as yet, there is no evidence that they are any cause for concern.  (Might I rue those words?  Not from what I have read … but then I’m no bumbleologist).

Tree Bumblebee (5)

If you should see one (and rest assured, in an English garden you probably will) please take a photo and record your sighting either with the Bees, Wasps & Ants Recording Society or, as I did, with the Open Air Laboratories (OPAL) network.  Any sightings in Scotland would be particularly welcome.

(With thanks to Clive Hill’s article on the Bumblebee Conservation websitewhich is a great source for further information).

20 thoughts on “The Tree Bumblebee

  1. What good news. Apparently with the decline of the honey bee wild bees are stepping in to pollinate the world’s crops.
    Great to have an introduced organism that is not hailed as alien invader.

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  2. Pingback: The Tree Bumblebee | Pacey-Buck Garden Design

  3. I’ve never seen this bumble bee in my garden in France but I have seen them a lot in the past couple of years in Surrey. I think British gardens could be providing an attractive habitat for it. Amelia

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  4. We had a nestbox-full of Tree Bumbles a couple of years ago in our garden (in Salisbury). They were a great treat to watch, though they were very agressive if you went too close – and always a had a few ‘guards’ hovering near the entrance-hole. I only got stung once.

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    • Ouch – bet a sting wasn’t fun. They are a problem if they’re nesting above a used door – the vibration will really get them going apparently. But I suppose a nest of hornets or wasps would be the same – or worse. D

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