Bumble Bees essential for the survival of wild flowers

White-tailed Bumblebee  Bombus lucorum  Lamberton  24/04/2013
White-tailed Bumblebee Bombus lucorum Lamberton 24/04/2013

The design and shape of many flowers has evolved to suit the shape and size of the Bumble Bees, Foxgloves are a good example with their large tubular flower which makes an ideal landing platform for the bees and they can then easily walk up into the flower to reach the nectar.

The anthers with the pollen are held on the underside of the glove tube and dust the hairy back of the Bumble Bees as they walk up inside the flower, after getting their sup of nectar the Bumble Bees then departs to another flower where they deposit some of the pollen from their backs and the cycle of cross pollination is completed. Smaller Insects like flies are too small to gather any pollen on their backs and are no use to the Foxglove, so to try and deter them from entering the glove and a free drink of nectar, the lip of the flower has a band of stiff hairs to make it difficult for the fly to enter but the hairs are no deterrent to a big heavy bee.

At the recent talk on the Northumberland National Park in Duns, Shaun Hackett’s enthusiasm for Bumble Bees created a buzz. The wild flower meadows that he has been creating in the park go hand in hand with his obvious love for Bumble Bees.

There are about 17 species of Bumble Bee in Britain, six are common widespread species often seen in our gardens and countryside the others are less common, often with more specialised habitat requirements.

In the spring the first ones we see are the queens which have hibernated over winter, they emerge in March and April and for a week or two their main task is to visit early flowers to get nectar to build up their strength. They are also on the lookout for suitable sites to build a nest, a hole in the ground like an abandoned mouse hole is ideal.

Once a nest site is selected the queen builds a nest and starts to lay her eggs, the resulting offspring are all sterile female workers who will go out to gather nectar and pollen, in the process pollinating the wild flowers, and feed and look after the brood in the nest.

In late summer the new queens and drones (the males) are reared, and the young mated queens are the ones which will hibernate to reappear the next year as the old queens will die at the end of their breeding season.

There is always something to upset the applecart, there are six species of Cuckoo Bumble Bee, they do not build a nest of their own but hijack the up and running nest of an ordinary bumble bee by killing the resident queen and laying her eggs in the nest, the unsuspecting workers from the previous queen then look after the young Cuckoo Bumble Bees, it’s a tough old world out there!