The header picture is of a garden bumble bee (Bombus hortorum) in a spear thistle flower at the edge of the large pond.
She has a yellow-black-yellow thorax, a yellow band at the base of her abdomen, and a white tail. She is distinguished from other similar bees by her long face and her very long tongue. She feeds on deep flowered plants such as thistles, deadnettles, clovers and vetches.
We can tell she is a female because she has pollen baskets on her back legs, empty but just visible in these pictures. Males leave the nest when they hatch and only need to feed themselves; they do not need pollen baskets to carry food back to the nest.
The nest is underground nearby, probably in the long grass at the margins of the field or the wood. The queen will have needed moss and dried grass when she built the south facing nest. It houses about a hundred workers.
Garden bumble bees forage close to home; they patrol regular routes, visiting the same plants day after day to take advantage of their succession of flowers. They seem to remember and avoid the flowers they visited the day before. It is this memory, essential to their feeding behaviour, that neonicotinoid insecticides disrupt.
There were twenty five species of bumble bee resident in the British Isles a hundred years ago; three of those species have already become extinct and three more are endangered. The garden bumblebee is one of the commonest but its numbers are falling drastically.
We have known that modern farming methods damage bumblebee populations since the 1960s but we have failed to make the changes that could protect them. Modern systemic insecticides have been particularly damaging and it is only now that the EU has finally banned neonicotinoids. Let’s hope it is not too late to save our bumblebees.
All pictures by DKG