If it's bee-like - round, short, fat and hairy, basically the kind of bee children would draw, then it's a bumble. There are many types though there are 6 particularly common types in this area – see Identification below.
Where do they live?
Most bumbles live in the ground either in holes they make themselves, under sheds, paving stones, etc, or by occupying a discarded mouse hole. Some will use above ground nooks and crannies, an empty bird box being a popular choice.
Are they a problem?
Absolutely not. They do no damage to your garden or property. They can sting but won't unless their nest is attacked. They will happily fly over, under or around you getting on with their business. Whilst some children can be frightened of the bumble (some ignorant adults too!) their fear is unfounded, probably generated by a politically correct culture where they are taught to fear the unknown especially anything that may be thought to be a potential problem. Once taught about them kids often show a keen interest and ask to keep a bumble bee nest box in the garden. They can even help in national research by completing on line surveys.
What should I do if I find a nest?
The best thing to do if you find a nest is absolutely nothing – consider yourself privileged that they have joined you, watch them, learn and enjoy. If you don't disturb them, then they will completely ignore you. They will only be there for their very short season (see below), most have left by late summer, then they will leave you seeking a new nest next year.
Very occasionally they can set up home somewhere inconvenient and you may need to move them. This is a simple operation best done at night when all the bees are home but you need to move it at least 3 miles away or the bees may return to the previous site. If you live in the North Somerset area then call YABeeP and, provided that it is accessible, we will gladly move your nest - see our Bumblebee Rescue Programme page.
If you plan on doing it yourself then the Bumblebee Conservation Trust recommends that you use a sturdy shoe box or old drawer lined with grass or dry moss. Make a ¾“ (2cm) entrance hole which you need to temporarily cover whilst you move them. Use a shovel to gently pick up the nest in one piece without tipping it as this would spill their honey which they need. Place the nest in the box which you need to cover with a close fitting lid. You must then move it to your alternative sheltered site. Cover the box with a waterproof cover to keep any rain out then uncover the entrance hole and leave alone to settle.
Some of the common species of bumblebee are difficult to tell apart. However there are several websites that can help you:
- Buglife's simple but effective identification chart (170 KB download)
- The Natural History Museum's British bumblebee identification guide, their Quick Guide to The Big Six species or their Find British species by colour pattern page
- Bumblebee.org's 6 bumblebees commonly seen un the UK page.
Bumblebee Life cycle
Bumblebees follow an annual life cycle with most species dying off each year with the exception of the queen who overwinters alone. The queen emerges in spring with some species rising as early as January. She finds and kits out a nest site then gathers enough pollen and nectar to start off her first brood of baby worker bees. Once hatched these workers forage so the queen can concentrate on laying. As the colony builds up males are bred. Once it has reached its maximum of around 150 to 200 bees some of the worker larvae develops into new queens. Once mated the workers and males die off and the queens disperse to find a different site to hibernate before the cycle starts all over again. For a more detailed and fascinating explanation of the bumblebees life cycle see these pages on the excellent Bumblebee.org website.
How do I encourage bumblebees into my garden?
1. By making a bees nest to attract bumbles - You can either make a nest site from simple materials (see this page to make one from a recycled pallet) or buy one ready-made. To make an an even simpler flower pot or paving slab nest see the Bumblebee Conservation Trust's nest box page.
Bumbles also love to nest in piles of old wood so leave a stack of rotting wood undisturbed in a sunny corner of your garden. As well as bumbles this will provide an home for many other useful invertebrates.
2. Planting for bumbles - see these pages for information:
- Waterscape's Attracting bumblebees to your garden page
- Buglife's Gardening for bumblebees page
- BBC Gardening - Dr. Dave Goulson Planting for Bumblebees
- BBC Gardener's World Plants for Bees feature
- Download Marc Carlton's excellent Gardening for Bumblenees pdf leaflet (93KB)
Probably the best bumblebee information on the web can be found here:
- Bumblebee. org
- Natural History Museum's bumblebee pages
- David Kendall's Bumblebee pages - note he's from Nailsea!
- Waterscape.com's Bumblebee pages - in 2009 they are majoring on bumbles in their public survey, why not have a day out and give it a go?
- Bumblebee Conservation Trust - in particular their FAQ page for advice on how to mave a bumblenee nest
- Buglife's Recognise your bumblebee page
- Bumblebee.org - Bumblebee life cycle
- Herculese Users Discover the Bumblebee page
- The Open University bumblebee page
- Operation Bumblebee
- Might of the Bumblebee - 24th March 2009 Daily Telegraph article
- For kids - BBC Breathing Spaces Save our Bees page
- Wild About Britain's Insects and Invertebrates forum - you need to register first.
And don't forget to see YABeeP's own Bumblebee Rescue Programme page.