The first bumblebee of the year

by Richard Jones

The first bumblebee of the year flies past like an animated boot brush.

Bumblebee queen, Bombus terrestris, on a leafThe first bumblebee of the year flies past like an animated boot brush. It's a huge queen of the buff-tailed bumblebee, Bombus terrestris, looking as big as a mouse as it drones about the allotment. It comes and goes several times as we're digging, but I can never quite see where it goes, or what flowers it might be visiting.

In fact, this isn't the first bumblebee I've seen this year, just the first living one. Twice now, we've found dead ones crushed on the pavement on the way to school in the morning. Examined carefully in the hand of nearly four-year-old, we discussed what could have happened to them, and what funeral arrangements might be appropriate.

This is a vulnerable time for these popular and fascinating insects. Having spent several months hidden in hibernation in some dry secluded spot, the queens, with a store of sperm from autumn matings, venture out to an uncertain spring weather pattern, which is as unpredictable as any of the many other dangers they face from predators, disease and parasites.

For the first few weeks they must forage alone, feeding the first batch of grubs through to maturity. If the queen dies, eaten by a bird, caught by mould, or trodden underfoot as she struggles to get airborne one cool March morning, the colony is ended. Only when that initial cohort of larvae emerge as workers is some of the pressure taken from her furry shoulders.

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Gardeners' World Web User 25/03/2009 at 11:48

hi i have loads and loads of bumblebees out the front of my house for weeks.i was wondering where there nest was.they have been busy taking the pollen from the heather,crocuses i also have a very large wissteria in flower growing up the house.although on sunday one of the furry buggers stung me on the hand[ouch].

Gardeners' World Web User 25/03/2009 at 16:39


Gardeners' World Web User 25/03/2009 at 17:48

So that`s their name.Bombus.What an appropriate name. One was crashing around in our conservatory the other day until i humanely got her outside and off she went like an angry Bomb er. They are fantstic creatures. Have had a few in the garden this year. Also some honey bees, but unfortunately whenever they arrive the weather changes to cold and windy. I just hope they survive the chill.

Gardeners' World Web User 25/03/2009 at 20:53

I too have had bumble and honey bees already in my garden - in fact more this year than any other - they are back!!

Gardeners' World Web User 25/03/2009 at 21:19

Don't know where you others are but we saw our first last Thursday (19th) in Livingston, just outside Edinburgh. It's turned a lot cooler since so haven't seen any others.

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