As spring starts in earnest you will start to see large, fluffy bees bombing around your gardens. You might hear them first as they resemble low flying helicopters as they navigate their way around foraging for food and surveying for a suitable nest site.
Keep a look out and see if you can identify them. The great thing about Queen bumblebees is that they are the easier caste to identify. Have a good look at their bottoms. The white-tailed bumblebee (Bombus lucorum agg) unsurprisingly has a white bum.
The White-tailed bumblebee, like the Buff-tailed (Bombus terrestris) are also early
emerging, large bees. With white tails and more lemony yellow bands on the thorax, it is another common garden bumblebee and one that you will find feeding on your garden plants.
Once the workers start to emerge identification becomes trickier because White-Tailed workers and Buff-Tailed workers can have white bottoms.
And, just when you think you’ve mastered the art of spotting the White-Tailed Queens you find out that actually there are three subspecies that make up the White-Tailed Bumblebee populations. You can’t tell them apart without DNA sequencing, so we have to scientifically refer to them as Bombus lucorum agg. The agg means aggregate.
The White-Tailed bumblebee is another short-tongued species favouring flowers with accessible nectar and pollen. They are also nectar robbers and will bite holes in the base of flowers such as comfrey, salvias and other longer tubular flowers and soak up nectar through these holes, because their tongues are too short to actually reach the nectar. It’s a very clever adaptation and doesn’t seem to affect the efficacy of pollination of the plants in general. These bees also nest in old rodent nests, such as mouse and vole holes.
Look out for the White-tailed queen bees in early spring feeding on flowers or zigzagging low over the ground surveying for suitable nest sites.
How to help
The queens of this species are too big and too heavy to delicately cling to small flowers, and need strong stemmed flowers with easy access to nectar and pollen, or landing pads where they can descend and feed safely on flowers that will support their weight, such as knapweeds and thistles.
Let the lawn grow longer and allow the daisies and clover to flower.
Leave a section of the lawn to flower and plant more wildflowers into this area using special native wildflower plug plants.