The latest news from the BumbleBee Conservation Trust tells us how bees have fared during the spell of weird weather we have experienced over the last 12 months.
Coldest spring in 50 years!
Following on from the wettest summer in 2012 since records began, bumblebees have been hit again by the slowest start to spring in recent times. Although temperatures were lower than average in both April and May, March was the coldest since 1962. The average temperature of 2.2°C in March was a full 3.3°C below the long term average, according to the Met Office.
This has had a huge effect on bumblebees and their usual life-cycle. During a warm spell in February and the very beginning of March, the first Queens emerged from hibernation. Very soon freezing temperatures left us struggling to see bumblebees again until the weather broke about mid-April! Thankfully bumblebee queens have the ability to re-enter hibernation when conditions change dramatically.
The bumblebee life-cycle could now be between one to two month’s behind depending on location and species. Records for Tree bumblebees started to trickle through to BeeWatch towards the end of May, compared to last year when they were at their peak at this time. Similarly Early bumblebee males should be plentiful now. Although the first record was added to BeeWatch on the 5th of May, further records accumulated slowly. Just in the last week or two, the bumblebee season seems to have finally got underway with lots more records of Tree bees, Early males and new cuckoo queens.
ID Tips from Bumblebee Conservation Trust
As the bumblebee season is finally hotting up, you should start to see more males and even male and female cuckoos if you are lucky!
Males can be distinguished by their longer antennae, thinner hind legs as they don’t possess pollen baskets and general fluffy appearance. Males of four of our common species, very helpfully, also possess extra yellow banding and yellow moustaches! Three of these species are shown below. The Heath bumblebee (Bombus jonellus) is missing.
Cuckoo bumblebees are much stronger and tougher than our social species and use this strength to overpower and often kill the queen in her nest. They are therefore longer, have dark wings, have hairy hind legs as they don’t possess pollen baskets and their fur is much more sparce and scruffy in appearance.