The early bumblebee is smaller than most bees you’ll see in your garden. These little bumblebees, plus many other animals and insects, are really important plant pollinators. The early bumblebee features a distinctive yellow banding and an orange tail tip, so can be easily spotted.
Bumblebee wings are amazing and can beat up to 130 times per second. This beating motion means that they can perform ‘buzz pollination’, which makes the flowers that they visit vibrate to release pollen. These bumblebees thrive in a variety of habitats, including gardens with nectar-rich flowers. The early bumblebee therefore plays a number of important roles:
Early bumblebees live in colonies and have a reputation for creating nests in unusual places. Nests are most commonly located underground in old mammal nests, or in abandoned bird nest boxes.
Scientific name: Bombus pratorum
Appearance: yellow and black banding across the body, with an orange/red tail that usually covers a small area (and is duller in comparison to the red-tailed bumblebee)
Queen: length 15 - 17mm, front of thorax yellow, first part of the abdomen usually yellow, distinctive orange tail
Male: length 11 - 13mm, distinctive orange tail, males have noticeably more yellow on their abdomen and also have yellow facial hairs
Worker: length 11 - 13mm, distinctive orange tail, the abdominal stripe on early bumblebee workers is less prominent and may sometimes be absent entirely
The nesting period of the early bumblebee is shorter than most bumblebees, with an average duration of 14 weeks. Nesting colonies will hold a maximum of 100 workers.
Queen bumblebees can be seen in flight as early as March, with workers and males first seen in April or May. In the south of England, two generations may occur in one year.