Five facts you should know about bumblebees

Bumblebees are on the wing in Scotland from March until October. They’re usually one of the first insects to appear in spring, reminding us that warmer weather is on the way – hopefully! 

Bumblebees are sizeable, bright creatures that live in large colonies and actually serve a unique and very useful purpose in our gardens and across the wider countryside. Here are five facts we thought you should know about them.

There are more of them than you thought

There are 24 species of bumblebee in the UK and 19 of those are found in Scotland. Two of the most common species are buff-tail and northern white-tail bumblebees which are black, yellow and white in colour, but common carder bees are also quite easy to identify because they’re bright orange. A new species – called the tree bumblebee – was discovered in Scotland in 2013 and has been recorded as far north as Perth so far. It’s the only one which is coloured with black, brown and white.

Bumblebees don’t die after stinging you

All female bumblebees are capable of stinging us. However, they don’t die after the deed as many people think. This actually only happens to honeybees because they have a barbed sting which cannot be pulled back out of the skin.

They are wonderfully messy

You're probably already aware that bumblebees are important for pollination, but did you know that’s partly because they’re so messy? They’re also pretty scruffy and hairy which means they pick up more pollen when they move from plant to plant collecting nectar. Bumblebees do something called ‘buzz pollination’ where they essentially power down their wings but increase the use of their wing muscles - the result is that they vibrate really quickly. This shakes off a lot of the pollen that they’re carrying on their bodies, which is particularly good for plants like tomatoes.

Some bumblebees are parasitic

Cuckoo bumblebees are quite unusual in that they are parasitic. Instead of building up their own empire in the form of a nest and colony, they simply steal the nests of other species. To do this, they sneak inside a suitable nest and hide for a few days to take on its scent. Then they kill the queen, take over her role, and go about producing more cuckoo bumblebees to do the same thing elsewhere. Cuckoos are able to do this because they have developed to be bigger and stronger than other species, and often have a more harmful sting as a result.

Honeybees aren’t the only ones making honey...                           

Bumblebees make it too! They don’t build it into cells or honeycombs though – instead they produce a form of honey which they store in small rimmed pots created from wax. They also keep pollen in the pots for the young bees.

If you’d like to help give bumblebees a home where you live, check out: