Cuckoo bumblebees, as their name suggests, take over the nests of ‘true’ bumblebees. The Cuckoo queen enter their host nest, and kill the existing queen. The remaining workers then rear the cuckoo’s young. The cuckoo bumbles, of which there are six species in Ireland, can be difficult enough to distinguish from true bumbles. However one distinguishing feature is the lack of a pollen basket on the back leg of the bee.
The photo below is of a forest cuckoo bumblebee. They appear to be having a good year with sightings in Mayo and Clare in the last couple of weeks
They are probably one of the easier species to identify with their large white tails and their single yellow band.
Forest Cuckoo bumblebee Bombus sylvestris
Note: no pollen basket on bee on left but Garden bumblebee on right (a true bumblebee) the pollen basket is obvious.
Tomás Murray from the National Biodiversity Data Centre will be teaching two bumblebee identification workshops here in County Mayo this coming weekend, 6th and 7th May 2017. I can highly recommend Tomás’s workshops, as it was where I first started to really learn about bumbles.
In addition, participants will learn how to monitor bees in their own areas and feed results back to the National Biodiversity Data Centre.
I would encourage anyone, who is in anyway interested in bees, to come along. The workshops are free and I can guarantee you will learn lots. See details below.
Wild Daffodil and Nanacathy‘s one-a-week photo challenge this week is “nature”. So right up my street, but so hard to choose one photo! So I have had to go for a gallery of some recent sightings!
Regular readers may remember my post about the first bumblebees and may remember this photo.
Some of you noticed the bee was carrying some little passengers and we were wondering if they would be detrimental to the bumble. I have since learned that these little mites are called phoretic mites (Parasitellus). The mites are just hitchhikers and will not harm the bee. They are a non-feeding nymph stage of the adult mites. They over-winter on the queen bees. Once the queen establishes a nest the mites drop off. They remain in the nest, feeding on the nest detritus, a sort of live-in nest cleaner for the bees.
At this time of year as queen bees are beginning to emerge from hibernation it is really important that there is food for them. Yesterday, I received this fascinating table in my inbox. The National Biodiversity Data Centre collects records of bees and the flower the bee was feeding on. With exception of Mahonia all the plants are native. It is also clear that dandelions are important. Here’s a couple of things you could do this spring:
- Allow the dandelions to flower on your lawn before you cut it, or
- Leave a corner of your lawn uncut, so that the dandelions can flower
Bumblebee on dandelion
Yes, spring has finally arrived! Today, we finally had some sun after many grey and wet days and I saw the first bumblebees – white tailed and maybe buff tailed too, but they were high up in the willow tree.
White tailed bumblebee
The first bee I saw in my parent’s garden. I only had my phone but you can really see that this bee has plenty of parasites. Hopefully they won’t have a detrimental effect on her ability to get a nest started and a new colony going.
There are still couple of places available on this Friday’s Pollinator Course at Lough Lannagh in Castlebar – click here for more information.
I took this photo last September. At the time, this newly emerged queen buff tailed bumblebee was building up her fat stores, before hibernating for the winter. In the next couple of weeks, against the odds of all an Irish winter can throw at them, queen bumbles will start emerging from their winter hibernation. When they emerge, it is vital that they find sources of pollen and nectar to restore what they have lost over the winter and to allow them to start building a new nest and laying eggs. In this way, they start the whole bumblebee life cycle all over again.
Buff tailed bumblebee
What can you do to help? Ensure a plentiful supply of nectar and pollen rich plants in your garden. Good early plants include crocuses, snowdrops, willows (female – ie with catkins), and fruit tree blossoms. If you have a lawn allow dandelions to flower before cutting.
Start thinking about what you can plant for the summer. Most herbs are great for bees. Many traditional cottage garden type flowers are also good like delphiniums, bellflowers, lupnis, foxgloves and aquilegia. Annuals like nasturtiums, snapdragon and poppies are all worth growing too.