Less common species of bumblebee found in the UK

There are about 19 different species of bumblebee (and six species of cuckoo bumblebees) found in the UK. On this page I will show you how to recognise some of the less common species, but really the best way to recognise all bumblebees is to use the keys and photographs in books.

The bumblebee body can be divided into three main parts to make identification easy. These are:
The head, which can be quite difficult to see on a foraging bee as it is deep in the flower.
The thorax which has the wings and legs attached. It is really just a box of muscles. The biggest being the flight muscles.
The abdomen which has the honey stomach for storing nectar, the sting, the wax glands and all the digestive and reproductive organs.

Males have slightly longer antennae, bigger eyes, no sting and no pollen basket.

Workers are usually smaller than the queen.

Bombus hypnorum, the Tree bumblebee
First recorded in the UK in 2001 in Hampshire. Now found in southern England as far north as southern Scotland. It is easy to recognise as it has a ginger thorax and a black abdomen with white tip. It has been most commonly found in gardens, and often nests in bird nest boxes. The queen may have some yellow hairs on her abdomen. Males can have some yellow hairs on the face. Queens are known to have multiple matings, although genetic studies have shown that most of the resulting offspring have the genes of a single male. Males have been noticed hovering in groups outside the entrance to bird nest boxes where there is a hypnorum nest with new queens ready to emerge. It is presumed they are waiting to mate with the new queens.

Body lengths, queen 18 mm, worker 14 mm, male 16 mm.

Queen
Worker
Male

Bombus hypnorum mating, tree bumblebee mating

The photograph above was sent in by Julia Hedges. It clearly shows the size difference between the queen and male, and also that the male has a band of red/ginger on his abdomen which is absent on the queen. Workers are similar to the queen, but smaller.

If you have always wondered what goes on inside a bumblebee nest then click on this page click here.

Bombus jonellus, the Heath bumblebee Often found in heath and moorland. More frequent in Scotland, in southern England. It is found in gardens and calcareous grassland as well as heathland.

Body lengths, queen 16 mm, worker 12mm, male 12mm.

Queen Worker Male
Bombus jonellus Same as queen Bombus jonellus male

Bombus ruderatus, the Ruderal bumblebee Workers can be intermediate or pale, males tend to be pale. Now found in just a few sites in England, and almost extinct, however it flourishes in New Zealand where they were introduced in 1885. Also has been found in Argentina since 1994, and may be causing the decline of the native B. dahlbomii. Prefers flower-rich areas, especially those with vetches, clover and nettle. Prefers to nest underground.

Body lengths, queen 22 mm, worker 16 mm, male 15 mm.

Queen, pale form Queen, intermediate form Queen, dark form
Bombus ruderatus Bombus ruderatus Bombus ruderatus

Bombus ruderarius, the Red-shanked carder bee A lowland species found mainly in Southern England. Queens and workers have pollen baskets framed with reddish hairs. Males similar to Bombus lapidarius The UK status for this bumblebee is nationally scarce. The preferred nest site is on or just below ground.

Body lengths, queen 17 mm, worker 15 mm, male 13 mm.

Queen Worker Male
Bombus ruderarius
Same as queen
Bombus ruderarius

Bombus sylvarum, the Shrill carder bee In UK found in only 7 sites in S. E. England. Population is declining steeply. Preferred nest sites are on or just below the ground. Has a higher pitched buzz than other bumblebees.

Body lengths, queen 17 mm, worker 14 mm, male 13 mm.

Queen Worker Male
Bombus sylvarum
Same as queen
Same as queen

Bombus monticola, the Bilberry bumblebee A moorland species, often found pollinating bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus), cowberry and cranberry. Found in declining numbers in the north and western highlands.

Body lengths, queen 16 mm, worker 12 mm, male 14 mm.

Queen Worker
Male
Bombus monticola
Same as queen.
Bombus monticola male bumblebee

Bombus soroeensis, the Broken-belted bumblebee Prefers heathlands and uplands in the Hebrides, and calcareous grassland in southern England. Is more frequent in Scotland, and declining in the south, not recorded in Ireland. Nests underground in old mammal burrows. Successful nests can have up to 150 workers. Note the break in the yellow band on the abdomen. The male has a thin line of ginger hairs between the white of the tail and black of the abdomen.

Body lengths, queen 16 mm, worker, 12 mm, male 13 mm.

Queen Worker Male
Bombus soroeensis
Same as queen
Bombus soroeensis

Bombus distinguendus the Great yellow bumblebee Restricted to coastal sites in Northern Scotland. Nests just below or on the ground surface. In the UK this species is listed as nationally scarce.

Body lengths, queen 20 mm, worker 16 mm, male 15 mm.

Queen
Worker
Male
Bombus distinuendus
Similar to queen
Similar to queen

Bombus muscorum, the Moss-carder bumblebee Uncommon, prefers moorland, fen and salt marshes. Nests on ground surface. No black hairs on abdomen. Population has declined, and it is now very rare and found on a few Hebridean islands.The preferred nest site is on or just below the ground.

Body lengths, queen 18 mm, worker 14 mm, male 14 mm.

Queen worker male
Bombus muscorum Similar to queens Similar to queens

Bombus humilis, the Brown-banded carder bumblebee Restricted to southern England coastal and chalkland areas, very similar to Bombus muscorum (above), no black hairs on abdomen. The UK status of this bumblebee is local. The preferred nest site is on or just below ground.

Body lengths, queen 17 mm, worker 13 mm, male 13 mm.

Queen worker male
Bombus humilis Bombus humilis worker Similar to queens

Bombus subterraneus the Short-haired bumblebee Declared extinct in 2000. Rare, restricted to S. England on flower-rich heathland and grassland, however it flourishes in New Zealand where it was introduced in 1885, and is now found on the shingle margins of large lakes. Nests below the surface. There are plans to re-introduce this species into Kent in England from New Zealand. This did not work out, but it was introduced from queens taken over from Scandanavia.

Queen worker Male
Bombus subterraneus   Bombus subterraneus

*Images taken from the excellent book Bumblebees, published by The Richmond Publishing Company Ltd., P.O. Box 963, Slough, SL2 3RS, U. K. rpc@richmond.co.uk