BEES AND BUMBLEBEES
You may be a bit nervous around bees, but you cannot be without some awe as well. In fact, we simply cannot do without them They are really amazing, not only producing honey, but have a highly organised social structure and work ethic. And most importanly for us, the pollinate not just our flowers, but ensure that our crops are successful.
In his book THE GARDEN JUNGLE = or Gardening to Save the Planet, Dave Goulson has a whole chapter on bees. He opens that chapter to warn us of the decline in bee numbers, as with most wildlife, and discussing how or if we would cope if our bees disappeared. We simply wouldn't. There are no modern technological alternatives to what our bees do for us. He then goes on to desribe the wonders of the bees and how we can in turn support them, such as planting bee friendly plants.
Bumble bees are larger and don't produce honey. They may not hold us so much in awe, but their buzzing in our gardens herald spring.
The Scottish Beekeepers' Association (SBA) Supporting Scotland's Bees and Beekeepers. Founded in 1912 as the national beekeeping body in Scotland we represent, educate, assist, inform, insure and bring together over 1500 beekeepers in Scotland. There has been a general decline in bee numbers worldwide due to a number of reasons. This does not simply mean a decline too in honey production for our own consumption, but this is indicative of the general condition of our natural and farmed landscape. This is taken so seriously that the Scottish Beekeepers' Association has followed up its previous assessments with "Scotland's New Honey Bee Health Strategy For 2022-2032".
We all know that bees are crucial to pollination. So are bumble bees. And for that matter a range of other creatures. Wihout them our flowers would not be as successful and fruit would simply not grow. Pay due respect to bees and bumble bees and they will service our natural and farmed environment including our gardens.
The most striking difference between bees and bumble bees is their size, but each varies too across their species types. There are some great websites available to assist you in identifying them. Only some of those seen across the UK will be found in Scotland and indeed West Dunbartonshire, but you will be surprised at what can be seen here.
While the hives of bees are generally understood, few of us really know about the nests of bumble bees. Bumble bee's nests are annual. When the end of summer is near, the queen will lay some queen eggs. When these hatch, the drones fly away with the new queens and mate. The new queens will then find a protected place to spend their diapause. Only the queen survives through the winter, all the other bees die off with the first hard freeze. She wakes up in the spring and starts to make another hive.
Links below include those to good identification websites. That for the Bumblebee Conservation Trust includes maps. To be more sure of your identification, refer to the map for a species distribution. Firm identification though is subejct to error. While the photos below an be useful, please don't depend on them and rather use the BUMBLEBEE CONSERVATION TRUST guide (see link below).
CARDER BUMBLE BEES : Bombus pascuorum
The common carder bee is one of the most widespread in Britain and can be been in gardens from Cornwall to Scotland. These fluffy bumblebees are covered in gingery-brown hairs with black abdomens that pale with age. They live in colonies and often adopt unoccupied bird boxes as a nest. Their long tongues make them perfect for feeding on flowers with long tubular florets, including as heather, clover and lavender. [Attract Bees].
Carder Bumble Bees on freshly opened burdock flowers near the Leven Barrage in July.
GARDEN BUMBLE BEES : Bombus hortorum
One of the ‘Big 7’ widespread and abundant species, found in a wide range of habitats across the UK and often frequent in gardens, where it is one of two common species found visiting foxglove. All three castes are similar, with a yellow-black-yellow thorax, a yellow band at the base of the abdomen, and a pure white tail. [Bumble Bee Conservation Trust].
This is most likely a Garden Bumblebee (Photo taken at Gareloch).
And some more photos taken near Renton in June 2023.
BARBUT'S CUCKOO BUMBLEBEE : Bombus barbutellus
A large cuckoo species which parasitizes the nests of the Garden bumblebee (Bombus hortorum), and probably also those of the Ruderal bumblebee (Bombus ruderatus). Like all cuckoo bumblebees, this species does not collect pollen to feed offspring, and correspondingly neither sex has pollen baskets and there is no worker caste. It is found across the UK, though its northern distribution is largely coastal and it is only truly widespread in the south. Like the hosts, this species has a yellow-black-yellow thorax and the first abdominal segment is yellow (sometimes faintly so in females), with a black band between that and the grey-white tail. [Bumble Bee Conservation].
A view of one taken at Geilston Gardens. The colouration is correct, but it looks paler.
A closer look.
HONEY BEE : Apis mellifera
There is only one native honey bee species in the UK and this is the western honeybee, apis mellifera. The first part of the Latin name simply means bee and the second part refers to it carrying honey.
Wiki tells us that typically as all honey bee is eusocial, it forms colonies with a single fertile female, the "queen". Many normally non-reproductive females or "workers", and a small proportion of fertile males or "drones" make up the rest of the colony. Colonies can house tens of thousands of bees which are organized by complex communication between individuals, through both pheromones and the dance language.
The western honey bee was one of the first domesticated insects, and it is the primary species maintained by beekeepers to this day for both its honey production and pollination activities. With human assistance, the western honey bee now occupies every continent except Antarctica. [Wiki].
A honey bee hovers before settling on a hydrangea in September near Renton. You can clearly see the nectar on its knees.
Most nectar generous flowers are waning in Septembr, but this type of hydrangea is just getting into full flower. Bees, bumble bees, hover flies and others make the most of them. Perhaps because the flowers are not quite yet in full flower, bees tend to keep moving about more and it is difficult to get good picture. In fact, honey bees have not been that common this year (2023) and this was the only one seen in this garden above Renton.
TREE BUMBLE BEE : Bombus hypnorum
One of the ‘Big 7’ widespread and abundant species, found in a wide range of habitats across the UK despite only first arriving in the country in 2001. Appears to have a distinct preference for suburbia and woodlands, perhaps partially driven by its habit of nesting in bird boxes and other manmade environments, as well as tree holes. It can now be found well into Scotland, and is widespread and abundant across England and Wales. A very distinctive species, with a completely ginger-brown thorax and a black abdomen with a white tail. Particularly in males, the first and sometimes second abdominal segments can also be brown, but there are always entirely black segments between the brown and the tail. [Bumble Bee Conservation].
And one of many seen above Renton in mid summer.
Pollinating a foxglove.
BEE HEALTH IMPROVEMENT PARTNERSHIP (BHIP), (Scottish Government) : https://www.gov.scot/groups/bee-health-improvement-partnership/
BLUE PLANET BIOMES : The bumble bee : https://www.blueplanetbiomes.org/bumble_bee.php#:~:text=Bumble%20bees%20play%20a%20huge%20role%20in%20our,in%20their%20area%2C%20helping%20them%20produce%20fruit.%20
BRITISH BEEKEEPERS ASSOCIATION : https://www.bbka.org.uk/what-bee-is-this
BUMBLEBEE CONSERVATION TRUST : An excellent source for identifying bumble bees : https://www.bumblebeeconservation.org/bumblebee-species-guide/
COUNTRY FILE MAGAZINE website : All about bees.
FRIENDS OF THE EARTH : A good reference for bumble bee types. https://friendsoftheearth.uk/nature/bee-identification-guide
GET OUTSIDE - ORDNANCE SURVEY : Bees : https://getoutside.ordnancesurvey.co.uk/guides/a-guide-to-british-bees/#:~:text=The%20bees%20traditionally%20thrived%20in%20Scotland%20and%20the,in%20Scotland%20is%20posing%20a%20threat%20to%20bees.
SCOTTISH BEEKEEPERS ASSOCIATION - Supporting Scotland's Bees and Beekeepers Scotland's New Honey Bee Health Strategy For 2022-2032 https://scottishbeekeepers.org.uk/
THE GARDEN JUNGLE - or Gardening to Save the Planet. Book by Dave Goulson. Vintage. 2019. ISBN 9781529116281.
WIKIPEDIA : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Western_honey_bee
WOODLAND TRUST on bumble bees : https://www.bumblebeeconservation.org/bumblebee-species-guide/