Great British Bee Count
Banded white-tailed bumblebees

During the Bee Count we’re asking you to look for banded white-tailed bumblebees. This is a category which includes a number of species that look very similar to each other. Here are some tips on how to tell the commonest ones apart.

Images: Hoverfly ©Ailura. All others ©Steven Falk

Buff-tailed bumblebee

Bombus terrestris

Yellow bands: Two, dark yellow in queens. Varying from dark to light in workers, usually with a buff tint.

Tail colour: Buff in queens. White and usually with a thin buff band at the base in males and workers.

Male face hairs: Black

Notes: One of the earliest bumblebees to emerge in February. Can overwinter in southern England and Wales.

White-tailed bumblebee

Bombus lucorum agg.

Yellow bands: Two, bright lemon yellow.

Tail colour: Pure white

Male face hairs: Yellow

Other notes: Be especially careful not to confuse workers with worker buff tails, if in doubt, don’t record the species.

Garden bumblebee

Bombus hortorum

Yellow bands: Three-Bright yellow

Tail colour: Extensive pure white

Male face hairs: Black. Forehead sometimes yellow.

Other notes: This bee has a particularly long face, which houses a long tongue. Prefers tubular flowers like deadnettle and foxglove.

Heath bumblebee

Bombus jonellus

Yellow bands: Three-yellow/buff

Tail colour: Extensive white. Occasionally buff in queens.

Male face hairs: Yellow

Other notes: Short, round face. Found in parks and gardens as well as heaths.

Lookalikes

Cuckoo bumblebees

There are five species of ‘cuckoo bumblebees’ which are a similar colour and can be trickier to tell apart. They lack a thick yellow band before the tail and may appear shinier with sparser hairs. These bees take over the nests of other bumblebees, making the workers rear their own young.

Hoverflies

A few species of hoverflies mimic these bumblebees. The most common are the bumblebee hoverfly Volucella bombylans and the narcissus bulb fly Merodon equestris. They have short antennae and larger eyes which sometimes meet in the middle. The bumblebee hoverfly has dark wing markings.