Bumblebees - Western Isles - Hebrides Insects

Bumblees - Western Isles

Bumblebees - large hairy bees - not to be confused with honey bees. There are five species of bumblebee that frequent The Western Isles or Outer Hebrides

The garden bumblebee, the Great Yellow Bumblebee, The white -tailed bumblebee, the Heath bumblebee and the Moss Carder Bumblebee.

The Great Yellow Bumblebee has of recent years been declining as indeed have many of the bumblebees in Great Britain, mainly due to agricultural changes which has meant that many of the flowers that bumblebees use for nectar have almost ceased to exist.

Nectar is high in sugar content and is a source of fuel for the bees.

The pollen gives proteins and nutrients which the bees need to grow. Bumblebees are closely related to the well know Honeybees

Great Yellow Bumblebee - Bombus distinguendus
The great yellow bumblebee, Bombus distinguendus, really is a striking looking bee. As in Britain there have been huge declines of this species, this particular bee has been used to highlight the plight of all bumblebees in Britain.

Bombus distinguendus is a relatively late-nesting bumblebee species, active between May and September throughout its range. In the late spring, queens (large females) emerge from hibernation and found colonies by rearing a brood of workers (small females) in an underground nest.



How did the bumblebee get its name?
If you look in a dictionary you will see that the word "bumble" means either "To move or act in a clumsy, unsteady or incompetent way" or " To make a low humming or droning sound" . Bumble is thought to come from the Middle English word bomblen which means to boom.

Related to The Honeybee
Bumblebees are big and extremely hairy bees. These bees are closely related to the well-known Honeybee.

A bumblebee colony is usually a lot tinier than the colonies of Honeybees or wasps. Honeybees and wasps colonies may have several thousand bees. Most bumblebee colonies have only 50 to 150 bees on them. As they live in small nests bumble bees never swarm.

Temperature is all Important - Body Heat
Bumblebees control their own body temperature. They detach the muscles that they use to move the wings. and move these quickly to make their own body heat.

Still Bumblebee on the Floor - Is it Dead?

Sometimes you will see a bumblebee on the ground or a flower, very still. It isn't dying or sick at all but is just heating up its own body. As the wings have been detached from their muscles the bee isn't capable of flight at that moment. A . Bumblebees keeps its body temperature to 34 to 38 Centigrade.

In winter, when temperatures are really cold the bumblebee isn't able to keep up its body heat so it hibernates instead. Bumblebees can be active on sunny days, while the temperature is still one or two degrees below the freezing point.

Honey - Not Enough Production for Commerciality
Bumble bees don't make enough honey to be of any commercial use, just a few grams at a time to feed their young

Einstein's "bee" statement
It is said that Einstein said that without bees to pollinate our food crops humans would die off in just 4 years It is now believed that it would take 7 years - he wasn't so far wrong was he?

Bumblebees Use Their Tongues
Bumblebees use their tongue like a straw to suck nectar from flowers

All bumblebees are able to sting - but usually they don't choose to do so. Even when handled - as long as they aren't squeezes - they wont stung. Bumblebees that are laying on their backs shouldn't be touched - they are laid on their backs as a defence mechanism and in this position they are telling us that they feel threatened and indeed are ready to sting. A bumblebees stinger will not stay in your skin - which is why a bumblebee may sting more than once. The actual poison is harmless (except if you are allergic to wasp poison). Different species however can cause varying amounts of pain. Drone bees (male)don't sting at all.

Never in The Tropics
You never find bumblebees in the tropics - however some are to be found in arctic conditions. There are 250 species of bumblebees worldwide. Their family name is Bombus.

Size - Queen -Female Worker- Male

The queen bee is the largest bumblebee, then the female worker and lastly the male or drone which is the smallest in size.

Furry and Round
Bumblebees are furry and round (honeybees are wasp shaped)

Lays 8 - 12 eggs




A Queen can lay about 8-12 eggs in the spring.

Nests - Life Cycle of the Bumblebee
The queen will locate finds a suitable place to build her nest. Different species choose different places to build their nests. One of the most common sites are the leaf litter in a hedge bottom or under a stone or under the wooden floor of a garden shed or other building.The nest is usually only a little bigger than half a grapefruit and that's when is is the busiest in the height of summer. The queen lays a few eggs at a time into a ball of pollen and wax - when the eggs hatch they try to eat through the pollen reserve but the queen very cleverly keeps making more.

The grubs pupate and the queen spins a bright yellow cocoon of silk and the emerge a few days later as fully grown worker bees. As soon as their wings are dry the worker bees start their work to support the colony

The queen continues to lay eggs and now the worker bees collect nectar to assist until late spring or summer until the nest is the correct size - then the queen begins to lay eggs that will become the next year queen bees.

The males or drones as they are called leave the nest and are then independent - all they are there for is mate with the young bumble bee queens and the bee cycle therefore continues.

Unlike honey bees the young bumble queens continue to live and work in the colony until the first sharp drop in temperature and frosts which is when the old queen, her workers and the independent drones will die. Only the newly mated queens will survive in hibernation to begin the cycle again the following Spring.

Reasons for The Decline of The Bumblebee

The reason that bumblebees have declined in recent years is that bees feed exclusively on pollen and nectar, and there are far fewer flowers in the countryside than there once were. One reason for the decline of the bumble bee populations is the fact that the places where the bumble bees nest are being disturbed often destroying the bumble bee's nest in the process. Hedges have been done away with, some of the marshes have been drained to make way for modern building and grasslands which were rich in wildflowers have been almost entirely swept away to be replaced by silage and cereal fields

Eco System and Bumblebees
Bumble bees play a valuable part in the eco-system as around 1/3 of what humans eat is pollinated by bees. It is estimated that around 80% of the world's crop species are dependent on the pollination by bees to survive.

Cuckoo Bumblebees
There are six types of cuckoo bees in Britain and these bees are parasitic in that they force out queen bees and take over their nests. Cuckoo bumblebees don't produce workers of their own. Each cuckoo species tends to attack a particular species of bumblebees.

Bumblebees Tongue
Their tongues are long and feathery and this means that they can reach nectar that other insects cant.

Bumblebees Legs
The bees legs have hairs and brushes used to gather the pollen off the body hairs and pack it into the pollen baskets to take home to the nest

Bumblebees have two pairs of wings - it might look like they only have one pair as the wings operate together. Their wings are held together, unlike those of dragonflies.


Bumblebees have an exoskeleton - a skeleton on the outside being made up of hard plates of chitin. Chitin is a nitrogenous polysaccharide insoluble in water, alcohol, dilute acids and digestive juices. Having this means that once a bumblebee has hatched out of its cocoon as an adult it cannot get any bigger. The muscles are attached to the inside of the plates. (Humans have an endoskeleton a skeleton on the inside of our body. The muscles are attached to the bone and as the skeleton is inside we can grow in size.

Sex Determination
In bumblebees fertilized eggs develop into females (queens or workers), and unfertilized eggs develop into male

A bumblebee has no ear. It isn't actually known whether or how a bumblebee can hear, however they can feel the vibrations of sounds through wood and other materials.

The blood isn't carried in veins and arteries like a humans blood - it just sloshes around. The body organs, heart, muscles, etc. sit in a pool of blood. The heart does pulse blood through its long tube, though which is a sort of circulatory system.

Bumblebees eat nectar and pollen from the flowers. Pollen is eaten mainly by the queen and the grubs although the workers too eat some. Pollen is full of protein. Nectar is mainly water with different types of sugary substances in it. Honey is just nectar that has less water and so the sugar has become more concentrated.

Great Yellow Bumblebee - Hebrides Insects
Tufted Vetch - Tolsta - Isle of  Lewis

Moss Carder Bumblebee - Bombus Muscorum
This bumblebee - Bombus Muscorum - frequents The Western Isles prefers moorland and is a breed that is a little bit rare and is now found only on a few Hebridean islands. The queen has a body length of 18 mm and workers and males have a 14mm body length. The Moss Carder Bee, has a bright orange upper body and yellowish lower body - it is a truly striking sight.

The adult has hairs on the thorax and abdomen that are mainly ginger, mixed with black on the abdominal segments (however - not on the mainland forms).

The Garden Bumblebee - Bombus Hortorum
This is a big species of bumblebee - bombus hortorum. The queen may be up to 22 mm long! It has a white tail and two yellow bands on the thorax: one on the frond and another one on the rear.

The Garden Bumblebee is sometimes known as the Long-tongued Bumblebee and the Three-banded White-tail Bumblebee and can be seen all over The Western Isles and Outer Hebrides - its quite a common bumblebee and is to be seen in a range of habitats, from woodland areas to scrubby areas - near streams or ditches and drains etc.
The White Tailed Bumblebee - Bombus Lucorum
The White Tailed Bumblebee - Bombus Lucorum - A characteristic of this species - has two yellow bands & a white tail, and a white tip to the abdomen.

Males have yellow hairs on the face and rear of the thorax. The white tailed bumblebee is seen in a variety of habitats - moorland, grassland,woodland and gardens - especially along the coastline.

These bees are a short tongued species who visit many different flowers.
The heath bumble bee is very active, rarely settling anywhere for long as it works its way around the heather flowers. Bombus jonellus (Heath Bumblebee) has two yellow bands on the thorax (collar and scutellum). On the abdomen there is a yellow band on the first and sometimes second segment. The tail is white. However in the hebridean form the tail is buff or yellowish.
Heath Bumblebee - Bombus Jonellus
A rather small yellow, black and white-banded bumblebee which is either expanding into habitats it was not previously found in, or has been overlooked in these areas in the past.

It looks very similar to the more abundant and widespread garden bumblebee, Bombus hortorum, which has a much longer face .Although being called the "heath bumblebee" it isn't confined just to heaths.
Heath Bumblebee
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