White-tailed Bumblebee

Following on from my last piece on buff-tailed bumblebees (Bombus terrestris), it now makes sense to look at one of its most similar species in Ireland, the white-tailed bumblebee (Bombus lucorum). White-tailed bumblebee Queens are large and striking creatures and have the characteristic black and yellow pattern, which we have come accustomed to associating with bumblebees (there are many other species of differing patterns and colours, which I’ll be writing about in coming weeks). For a short recap on where I start with bumblebee identification, I look at the tail colour first, then the number/colour of bands present (or in some cases the lack of bands).  As the name goes, the white-tailed bumblebee has, well a white tail. For B. lucorum queens the tail is a very clean, striking white colour, unlike that of the buff-tailed bumblebee, which can have anything from a “dirty” white to an almost orange coloured tail.

Bombus Lucorum Queen - Oisín Duffy

Bombus lucorum Queen – Oisín Duffy

The second thing to look at now is the number and colour of the bands which are present on the individual. One white-tails the bands tend to be a bright, lemon yellow colour, unlike the darker yellow, almost orange coloured bands of the buff-tailed bumblebee.  Again it is much easier to identify these species when you have a comparison, after that you will start to recognise what exactly to look out for (the picture below should help with first time Identification).

Comparison of B. lucorum and B. terrestris queens - Oisín Duffy

Comparison of B. lucorum and B. terrestris queens – Oisín Duffy

I have recorded this species in a number of different habitats, from conifer plantations, to roadside verges, to sand dunes and gardens in fact B. lucorum queens were one of the most plentiful in my own garden in Co. Donegal this year.  Males differ from queens and workers in that they have a much more extensive yellow colouring (generally on the abdomen), along with yellow tufts of hair on the face (male bumblebees of many species will have yellow tufts of hair on the face, I like to think of this as bumblebee beard of sorts and it becomes rather easy to spot after you have seen a few). A few months ago while I was out botanising around the southern half of Donegal I noticed a large group of bumblebees feeding on Sea Rocket (Cakile maritima), Queens, males and what could be assumed to be workers of B. lucourm were feeding also.

Male Bombus lucorum on Sea Rocket (Cakile maritima), notice the extensive amount of yellow on the abdomen.

Male Bombus lucorum on Sea Rocket (Cakile maritima), notice the extensive amount of yellow on the abdomen. – Oisín Duffy

The workers of B. lucorum cannot be reliably be told apart in the field as they are extremely similar to workers of B. terrestris. The only reliable method appears to be DNA analysis or alternatively if you find a nest and are lucky enough to see the queen then you can assume that the workers flying in, out and around the nest.

B. lucorum/B. terrestris workers in Ireland.

B. lucorum/B. terrestris workers in Ireland. – Oisín Duffy

If anyone out there has any questions or suggestion regarding this piece or maybe regarding future pieces, feel free to get in touch through twitter @OshDuffy. If you enjoy posts and especially images of plants and pollinators, then be sure to follow me on twitter also.
Also feel free to check out my own personal blog with has a concise versions my Bumblebee ID posts Oisin Duffy Nature Notes (http://oisinduffy.wordpress.com/).
Next week I’ll be keeping with a similar vein of species with white tails, Bombus jonellus the Heath Bumblebee.

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