Back to blog listings

The life and times of the bumblebee

Custom Join Block

Posted: Friday 8th July 2016 by WildBlog

Early bumblebee (c) Jon Hawkins, Surrey Hills PhotographyEarly bumblebee (c) Jon Hawkins, Surrey Hills Photography

These fat and fluffy bees are favourites of the British summer and can currently be found bumbling around Bristol collecting pollen. This is the perfect time of year to bumblebee-watch as wildflowers are in full bloom.

There are 275 types of bumblebee in the world and 24 of these live in the UK. Bumblebees are easy to spot with their distinctive buzz and hairy bodies, though if you want to learn how to identify the different species, you need to check out their bums. Bumblebee bums come in red, white, yellow, black or buff colours and this is one of the key ID features to take note of. Bumblebees also have distinguishing stripy patterns, so pay attention to the number and colour of their body stripes.

Male and female bumblebees behave very differently, so how do you tell the difference? Behaviour wise, females are busier, buzzing from one flower to the next collecting pollen. Males appear later in the summer and sit lazily around on flowers, or repeatedly patrol areas looking for females.

Females have a pollen basket on their back legs; this is a shiny hairless surface, which they use to collect pollen in a ball – spot this ‘pollen basket’ and you know it is a female. Whereas if you come face-to-face with a yellow-faced bee, you can be sure it is a male. Thirdly, if you’re stung by a bumblebee, you can be certain it is a female! However don’t worry as bumblebees rarely use their stings.

Six out of the 24 bumblebees are cuckoos - these are disguised as true bumblebee queens and take over their nest using cunning and force. Similar to their bird namesake, cuckoos trick the bumblebee workers to raise their own young. As well as absent pollen baskets you can spot the difference with their noticeably darker wings.

Bumblebees are hugely important pollinators for our food crops and wildflower meadows, sadly bees are declining due to a number of factors including habitat loss, climate change and increased use of chemicals in agriculture and gardens. But there is plenty to do to help.

There are pockets of pollinator patches all around Bristol, spurred on by great initiatives such as BeeBristol, Get Bristol Buzzing and #MyWildCity. The awareness for the plight of the bumblebee is growing, can you do your bit for the bees?


How to help bees

  • Plant bee-friendly flowers. Some of the over-bred flowers, whilst pretty, have little nectar to offer bumblebees. Check out the RHS perfect for pollinators list
  • Avoid using pesticides in your garden. Instead why not try organic companion planting to keep pests away? (good tips available at
  • Leave patches of WILD in your garden – if you cut the grass less often you’ll allow the plants to flower.
  • Count bees for the Bumblebee Conservation Trust
  • Spotted a sleepy bee? You can give it an energy boost with an offering of sugary water and then move it to nearby flowers.

Keep in touch
Twitter @avonwt #MyWildCity #GetBristolBuzzing
Facebook and Instagram /avonwt

By Ella Beeson, Communications Officer


Read WildBlog's latest blog entries.


There are currently no comments, why not be the first.