Otherwise known as the New Garden Bumblebee, the Tree Bumblebee Bombus hypnorum is one of my favourite garden visitors. A pleasant figment of Spring and Summer which I look forward to observing each year. Boasting a distinct pattern of alternating orange, black and white, B. hypnorum is a familiar sight in urban areas where it is commonly encountered foraging amid garden blooms (ours particularly enjoy Raspberry) or occupying bird boxes placed out for the local blue tits – indeed, these feisty bees have even been known to evict tits from their chosen box.
A relatively new arrival to Britain, the species was first observed in 2001 close to the village of Landford in Wiltshire and has since spread across the length and breadth of England, recently reaching both Scotland and Wales. It’s globetrotting nature further confirmed by the occurrence of the species in Iceland during 2008 – where it has now been confirmed breeding annually since colonisation.
Identification: the colour pattern of B. hypnorum is unique among British bee species. Look out for a tawny (ginger) or reddish thorax and a black and white tail. Unlike other bee species, queen, worker and drone tree bumblebees all look similar in appearance; with drones (male bees) roughly double the size of an average Honey Bee boasting blunter ends to their abdomens and longer antennae. Queens are easily recognised by their large size; though this is known to vary substantially.
Interesting fact: if you have bees nesting inside your tumble dryer or any other piece of household equipment, this is likely the culprit. There are several cases of these so-called tumble dryer colonies reported in the UK each year, usually inside the vent pipe side arm where the fluff from our clothes makes for handy nesting material. These colonies can be pesky and despite not posing a danger, may need to be removed. It is best to call a professional in order to do this, however, as, like other bees, B. hypnorum is known to ferociously defend its nest sites.
Image: Tree Bumblebee – Charles Sharp, licensed under Flickr Creative Commons (here)