Great British Bee Count
Red-tailed black bumblebees

There are three species of black bumblebees with red tails in the UK. The commonest species which you are most likely to see in gardens is the red-tailed bumblebee, but you may spot the others on your travels. If you want to look closer, here is our handy guide.

 

Images © Steven Falk

Red-tailed bumblebee

Bombus lapidarius

Tail colour: Crimson, but fades in old individuals.

Wing colour: Transparent

Hind legs: Bare, black and shining with a fringe of black hairs in queens and workers. Have pollen baskets.

Body hair: Short and neat.

Other features: Males have a yellow ruff and face

Habitat and range: Common and widespread in a variety of habitats, including gardens, towns and woodland.

Red-tailed cuckoo bee

Bombus rupestris

Tail colour: Bright red

Wing colour: Dark grey/brown

Hind legs: Hairy. No pollen baskets.

Body hair: Short and sparse

Other features: Broad head. Long body. Males have grey bands

Habitat and range: A variety of habitats but mostly unimproved grasslands. England and Wales but expanding North.

Red-shanked carder bee

Bombus ruderarius

Tail colour: Orange/red

Wing colour: Transparent

Legs: Bare, black and shining with a fringe of orange hairs in queens and workers

Body hair: Long and scruffy

Other features: Dumpy body.

Habitat and range: a declining species mainly found in wildflower-rich grasslands. Southern England, Northern Ireland and Ireland.

Lookalikes

Red-tailed mason bee

Osmia bicolor

A hairy solitary bee is mainly found in chalk grasslands in England and Wales, where it nests in snail shells. Sometimes in sandy areas and brownfield sites. The females are black with red hairs covering most of their abdomen. They have a broad head and greenish eyes.

Hoverflies

A few species of hoverflies mimic these bees. The most common are the bumblebee hoverfly Volucella bombylans and the narcissus bulb fly Merodon equestris. These hoverflies have short antennae, a pale face and large eyes that meet in middle in males (bee eyes never meet). The bumblebee hoverfly has dark bands across its wings.