The Big Six

The most commonly occurring bumble bees in the UK are called the Big Six-and I have recorded all 6 of them in the garden already this Spring. I think.  For the last couple of days there have been fewer of the large Queens flying, perhaps because of the cool breeze, or because they are busy with nesting activities. Or simply because I haven’t been noticing. As I work in the garden today I will be keeping an eye out for more activity.

There are many similarities between the species but also  defining differences.  Some are easy to spot-there is no other bumble bee like the red tail, but I find it difficult to distinguish between worker buff and white-tailed bees. It is easy in pictures but in the garden the glimpse you get is not always enough to decide if the bands are lemon yellow or golden yellow, and the tail is whitish or buffish. I was convinced when I photographed the Garden bee it was a white tail, only noticing the third yellow stripe when I looked at the photograph. I’m still not convinced I have a photograph of a white tail yet. I’ll keep trying!

With reference to the cold weather, bee activity is less on these cold mornings and you may have noticed it is the big bumblebees on the wing first. Honeybees cannot fly when temperatures are below 54 degrees because they lose heat faster than they can generate it. Bumblebees, being furrier, retain heat better, but they also have developed an extraordinary ability to raise their body temperatures. There is a wonderful video from the BBC with the dulcet tones of Richard Attenborough here that shows this.I found this through Help Save Bees, and found it fascinating.

Are the bees busy in your garden? Have you noticed the large Queen bumblebees?


3 thoughts on “The Big Six

  1. It is incredible that you were able to photograph all six kinds of bees. So far, I haven’t seen any bees. I tried to watch the video, but it isn’t ‘available in my area’. I have the BBC player installed, but it only works for radio programmes.

    1. Oh Kate-I am sorry about that. It perhaps only works in the UK. The film shows how the bees can “disengage” their wings but continue to use the wing muscles inside their bodies to warm themselves up to flying temperature.
      I am very lucky to have seen the 6 common bumble bees already-it has been a long, sunny, settled April that has encouraged them to be on the wing. There is plenty of blossom out too-the ornamental cherries are in full flower here and the fruit blossom is just opening. A good time to be a bee.

  2. I don’t quite understand why the programmes aren’t available outside of Britain. It has something to do with the BBC having rights only to broadcast in the UK. Thank you for the explanation ~ that is fascinating. April has been unseasonably warm for the past week, until today that is. The temperature dropped this morning from 13c to 3c late this afternoon.

    The thought of seeing fruit blossoms is a delightful one. I can’t wait! Hope you have a good weekend, Judith.

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