Early bumblebees

Really  early bumble bee (Bombus pratorum)

Really early bumble bee (Bombus pratorum)

I think I should give an early warning  here – this post  is about bumble bees and honey bees.  It is a sort of warning cum apology but the weather this week was amazing and the bees really took advantage of it.  I took these photographs on Tuesday 19 February in the warm sunshine although the air temperature did not go above 12 degrees Centigrade.

Early Bumble bee (Bombus pratorum)

Early Bumble bee (Bombus pratorum)

The winter honeysuckle (Lonicera fragrantissima) is just about the end of its flowering season but there were three or four Early Bumble bees gathering nectar from the flowers.  The pollen baskets are visibly empty.

White-tailed bumble bee (Bombus Lucorum)

White-tailed bumble bee (Bombus Lucorum)

There was a White-tailed bumble but she (they) have been visiting throughout the winter.  It was the first time I had seen any Early bumbles.

What I noticed was that that the bumblebees appeared only to be taking nectar.  They were carrying no pollen.

Honey bee on honeysuckle

Honey bee on honeysuckle

There were not many honey bees on the Honeysuckle but they, on the other hand, were carrying its distinctive yellow pollen.

Honey bees on Viburnum tinus

Honey bees on Viburnum tinus

The Viburnum tinus was alive with honey bees but no bumblebees.  The bee on the top right of the flower is carrying the ivory coloured  pollen about the same size as the bud.

Honey bee on plum tree

Honey bee on plum tree

The plum tree was starting to buzz but it was all honey bees and they all seemed to be interested in gathering pollen.

I presume the bumblebee queens are woken up by the warm weather and feel the need to restock on their energy stores.  It is certainly too early for them to start nesting.

Thursday brought glacial winds and daytime temperatures of just over zero that even the Charente sunshine could not warm.  I hope the bumblebee queens are back tucked-up in the same place that they have spent the winter.

Cute Early Bumblebee

Cute Early Bumblebee

This photograph serves no purpose except that I found it cute!

Question carder

Question carder

On the other hand I was wondering if anyone had an opinion on this photograph.

Perhaps a carder

Perhaps a carder

Another bumblebee on the honeysuckle on Tuesday was not the same colour as the usual carder bees I see.

Carder?

Carder?

It was overall much redder in colour, toning to grey on the underside rather than a pale beige.  Perhaps it was her winter colours and she goes redder in the winter like some plant leaves!  I’d be interested to hear any ideas.

Peacock butterfly on plum tree

Peacock butterfly on plum tree

I found it strange that the bumblebees did not take advantage of the plum blossom.  The peacock butterfly seems satisfied and there are far more flowers on the plum tree than the honeysuckle.

Plum tree in flower

Plum tree in flower

There seems more than enough flowers for the bumblebees to share on the plum tree but they kept themselves to themselves on the honeysuckle.  The plum tree had only burst into bloom in the preceding few days whereas the honeysuckle has been flowering all winter.  Perhaps the queen bumblebees need to refill at a known nectar source rather than wasting energy foraging if they have a steady supply.  They are on their own at the moment unlike the honey bees who have their foraging bees that are able to alert the hive to a new source of nutrients.

 

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35 thoughts on “Early bumblebees

  1. It will be interesting to see what they, the bees and bumblebees, choose when they next come out on a sunny day. Maybe it’s a bit like us. On a cold day, we prefer porridge to cornflakes ie our tastes change according to the weather.

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    • I do keep my eye on what they are taking as it is interesting. I have noticed that the different species of bumblebees favour different flowers. The weather is forecast to improve again next week, so I’m looking forward to seeing them again soon.

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  2. Your carder bee is almost certainly B. pascuorum. It’s unlikely to be any of the lookalike species. They range in colour quite a lot, and this one seems fairly typical for early in the year. They fade later in the year.

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  3. Great pix as usual… I like the “cute” Bumble… and the shot of your plum in blossom… both make me feel warmer… we awoke to snow on the ground… and a Long Eared Owl hunting the meadow which was rather nice.
    Only insects around at the moment are a few drowsy Shield Bugs that are wondering why they got up!!

    Your “Carder?” will be one for Susan I think…

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    • Lots of bees are taking advantage of the warm sunny days between the cold windy ones. It is interesting that the first butterfly I usually see is also the Peacock, they must reemerge quickly when there is some warmth in the sun. Christina

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  4. I’ve just had a quick trawl through Benton (the New Naturalist volume on Bumblebees) to see if he sheds any light on the foraging behaviour you witnessed. B. lucorum will use plum blossom, but B. pratorum and B. pascuorum don’t seem to. Also it’s too early for them to be collecting pollen. They’ll concentrate on nectar until the nest is established. Benton comments that bumblebees will take nectar from a wide range of plants, but are quite choosy about their pollen sources.

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    • I thought that was probably the reason they were not taking the pollen yet. It is interesting that they are choosy about their nectar sources. I noticed last year that B. pratorum was about the only one interested in my Tellima grandiflora but that they really loved it.

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  5. In the photo of honeybees on Viburnum tinus, the lowermost one may be a bee mimic, or syrphid fly. It seems to have the short antennae and big eyes of a fly and the stripes on its abdomen don’t look quite as sharp as the honeybee stripes.
    If so, you’re seeing a wonderful variety of pollinators for this time of year!

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    • I think you are right. It is not a good angle to be sure but the eyes look more like it could be a fly. They were in amongst the bees but I was trying to focus on the bee as I love the ivory coloured nectar they gather from the tinus. I also saw a strange large hover fly the same day that hovered stationery at about five foot from the ground. I’ve got the photo when it landed but I haven’t identified it yet.

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  6. Hello; lovely to see the bees come out at this time of year – and to see that they’re finding forage. Wonderful to see a single peacock as well. There has been no real activity from pollinators at all where I am; we do so need a spell of warm, sunny weather.

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  7. Hi, I have just found your ‘blog’ whilst scouring the internet to find a reason why I have NO bumblebees this year at all!!! I have a large batch of lavender which is usually a mass of honeybees and bumbles of all different shapes and sizes together with different butterflies – a real joy. This year however, I have loads of honeybees and several butterflies but no bumblebees at all. It is really worrying. I haven’t seen any anywhere else. Does anyone know if there is a desease or preditor I should be looking out for? I live in the Charente, 1 hour from Limoges. I would be grateful for any information any of you might have. thank you.

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    • This is really interesting as I too am finding bumble bee numbers very low this year. I think the culprit is their worse enemy – the weather. I was following two nests early in the year in the garden but they did not last. This spring has been very bad for bumble bees setting up their nests. The other solitary bees such as the mining bees do not seem to have suffered. I am seeing more and more solitary bees in the garden as the flowering plants build up. Check out for Anthophora – they look like sweet little grey bumble bees that move very fast, I bet they are in your lavender.

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      • Hello thank you for your reply. Since writing, over the last few days, I have now seen three bumble bees, two large and one small, which appear to now making frequent visits to the lavender. I’m so pleased. We have loads of honey bees on it and the solitary/mining bees are regular visitors to our wooden chalet, making their egg nests in all the nooks and cranies!! Bless’em!! I do not know what to look for with regard to a nest so I don’t know where the Bumble Bees are living. Thank you for your comments, and I shall keep looking at your blogs.

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        • Dave Goulson, founder of the Bumblebee Conservation Trust writes in his book “A Sting in the Tale” that the way to find bumblebee nests is to get a deckchair, a cold gin and tonic and to sit in the garden and stare at 6 by 6 metre area and watch the bumble bees. If you see them passing somewhere with no flowers repeatedly or disappearing into the ground you may have found a nest.

          I have found mine in a more random way.

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          • It’s funny you should say that because I was sitting in the garden and saw two bumble bees who appeared to settle on the ground and disappear. I tried to focus on the spot but couldn’t find it when I looked. We since had a huge amount of rain and when we didn’t get any bumbles on the flowers I imagined that maybe they got washed out. I must endeavour to make several manmade nests for next year to see if I can encourage them to a more suitable spot in the garden. I have thankfully seen a few more bumbles on the lavender today so that’s good. I’l let you know if I ever find a nest!! Thank you for your interest. Happy bee watching!

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    • It is an interesting article. The weather seems an all important factor for a lot of the insects. We miss the more attractive ones but I suppose it is a huge factor in the survival of the fittest.

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      • Indeed. I notice that we do not have the usual glut of black crickets in our lawns this year either and the air is not filled with the continental cricket noise all day and night! Maybe this is connected with the bees! Perhaps all their little homes underground have been washed out by all the rain we have had this year. It’s a thought?

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