Southern Marsh Orchids

Southern Marsh Orchids

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

It's back again!

The Bumblebee from a previous post was out again today, despite an air temperature of only 8 degrees.  Hopefully these pics allow a better id, and using the Natural History Museum bumblebee key here: I would say it is possibly Bombus terrestris.
If Nigel happens to be reading this, do you agree?


  1. Yes definitely.

    As I had suggested previously it might have a line of "why not" orange hairs as a border between the white "tail" and the rest of the black hairs on the abdomen, and your photo shows that and a clearly elbowed antenna which is a reasonable good indicator of sex, female.

    So without the buff "tail" that this species should have if it was a queen, it is a worker Buff-tailed Bumblebee, Bombus terrestris.

    Which is why I think most of the present common names for bumblebees which have only been for 101 years or so are somewhat misleading, although it is a matter of opinion as to whether anyone should come up with anything newer and more useful.

    It looks bright and new, with no noticeable abrasion to the body hair and no wing wear damage that I can see, perhaps it is the last worker to hatch in the nest? Its future is pretty well determined by food supply in the locality, and it and its nest might survive the winter if there is enough food on the most southerly promontory in Wales.

    Bumblebee nests overwintering have been recorded over the last decade or so in Southern England and a B. lucorum nest in the garden of the NHM in South Kensington. The thoughts behind this phenomena have been around winter food supply from winter flowers planted in urban parks being the main fact rather than climate change although it might help also.

    8 degrees is nothing, if you have never watched "Life in the Undergrowth" if I have got the title correct [D. Attenborough/Insects] there is a wonderful sequence of a bumblebee queen nest site hunting I think, without getting the DVD out, through an infrared camera showing the bee with a temperature of c20 degrees when the ambient temperature was 2 or 5 degrees something like that.

    They have the ability to warm up their flight muscles independently of the temperature of the rest of their bodies.

    They have given me endless amusement for almost half a century. And when you think that the Tree Bumblebee (B. hypnorum) managed to find Iceland a year before GT first recorded it in Wales, just amazing. Admittedly it might have been "ship assisted", but I still think they have got attitude. And friendly too, I have only ever been stung once, and that was moving an entire colony.

  2. Thank you Nigel. I know that moths have a similar capacity to warm their flight muscles by vibrating their wings rapidly. I believe some have a form of antifreeze which enables them to tolerate even lower temperatures. It reminds me of a camping trip 8,000 feet up in the Canadian Rockies a few years ago, seeing clouds of a a carpet moth (looked like Spruce Carpet) flying enthusiastically with the temperature at or slightly below freezing. That was in mid August!

  3. Oh I have seen similar bumblebee species happily flying over snow fields tracking clumps of arctic spring flowers in temperatures well below freezing inside the Arctic Circle in northern Scandinavia. With me thinking surely these flowers are not producing nectar in these conditions, but I am sure they were.

    But to return to your sighting, I would like to revise what I have said and plump for female and be dammed. Whether worker or queen I think is a fairly tedious debate. It ought to be a queen, I had two B. terrestris queens on the Mahonia in next doors garden on New Years Day last year.

    Your comment previously about middle range size fooled me, as B. terrestris queens are normally lumps, or the ones that survive are. Size is governed by nutrition and size particularly of workers through a season can be variable.

    Now that we are confident as to what it is, it would be worth you putting it on the BWAR's website

  4. I wonder, do records submitted to SEWBReC not end up in the BWAR's data base?

  5. I had an email exchange with Peter Harvey from the Spider Recording Scheme a few weeks ago along similar lines after he had looked at a specimen for me. Apparently for the SRS data needs to be entered through their portal, it won't be squirted across directly from SEWBReC. For folk who look at multiple taxa, that could become somewhat tedious, with multiple data entry across several different systems. I've never been especially content with this situation as I would prefer open access to the info I collect. It also can't be great for folk who are compiling environmental reports and must significantly increase the chances of something important being missed if they can't access a single comprehensive (reliable) database. On a positive note I do like the new LRC data access tool though - it just needs to be a bit quicker!

    I'm happy to be corrected if I have got this wrong!