Description and notes
A rather local lowland species of bumble bee which has shown a significant decline in range in recent years. Identification keys and general biology are found in Sladen (1912), Free & Butler (1959), Alford (1975) and Prŷs-Jones & Corbet (1991). A very rare melanic form, f. nigrescens, was found a few times in East Sussex in the 1920s. Darker specimens were found again in 2011 on Dungeness (N Gammans pers. comm) and at Deal (RL Evans & ED Moss, pers. comm)
Formerly locally frequent in England, south and east of the Severn-Wash line with scattered records from lowland areas over the rest of England, coastal areas of Wales and scattered localities in lowland Ireland. Since the 1960s this species has shown a severe reduction in range. In 1999 there were only seven areas with known populations of this bumblebee: four in England and three in South Wales. There are a few modern records for the Burren, Ireland. The species ranges through most of Europe except the northern parts of Scandinavia and the Mediterranean area eastwards to the Urals.
Status (in Britain only)
Listed as a Notable B species by Falk (1991) (now known as Scarce (Nb)), but has become much rarer in recent years and may now be in danger of becoming extinct in Britain.
Occurs in a variety of open, flower-rich situations such as sand dunes, edges of salt-marshes, shingle beaches, chalk downland and heathland.
Late May until September.
Pollen from plants of the families Fabaceae, Lamiaceae and Scrophulariaceae is particularly favoured.
Nests are usually built in a slight hollow on the ground amongst rough vegetation, or just underground, in early June. The workers, of which there are usually less than one hundred per nest (F. Smith, 1868; Sladen, 1912; Hasselrot,1962; Alford, 1975), emerge from mid-June onwards and the new generation of males and females appears during late August and September.
The comb is light yellow with a neat appearance; little wax is secreted, this being worked into thin sheets (Sladen, 1912; Alford, 1975). Occupied nests are illustrated by E. von Hagens (1986) and Geiser (1988). Grandi (1961) has described and figured the prepupa.
A wide variety of flowers are visited, mainly from the families Fabaceae, Boraginaceae, Lamiaceae, Scrophulariaceae, Dipsacaceae and Asteraceae.
Year profile last updated
Profile written: 2001
Updated: December 2011