British Insects: Bumblebees and Cuckoobees (Bombus and Psithyrus: Hymenoptera)


L. Watson and M. J. Dallwitz


This data set is generated from a DELTA database (Dallwitz 1980; Dallwitz, Paine, and Zurcher 1993). The original intention of the ‘British Insects’ suite of packages, of which it forms part, was primarily to present scans of the fine hand-coloured engravings of insects in John Curtis’s British Entomology: illustrations and descriptions of the genera of insects found in Great Britain and Ireland (1824–1840). The first 12 volumes of the first edition (up to 1835) were directly available to us, and pages issued from 1836–1840 have been accessed from other sources (see Notes on John Curtis’s British Entomology). In addition to presenting Curtis’s and other early illustrations, however, all the ‘British Entomology’ subsets incorporate descriptive data organized under the DELTA system, and purport to offer at least partial identification and information retrieval via the interactive program Intkey.

The present subset is itself a subset of the one dealing with all the families of British Hymenoptera ( The illustrations are currently limited to scans from Saunders’s (1896) plates, plus John Curtis’s two beautiful plates, with updating of the nomenclature. The draft species descriptions have been prepared with resort to works listed in the References, in particular Saunders (1896), Edwards and Jenner (2009), and Prys-Jones and Corbet (2011), supplemented from Internet sources (e.g., the Web site, While one or other of the two recent productions is an essential purchase for anybody wanting to identify Bumblebees and Cuckoo-bees encountered in the British Isles, neither satisfies an essential requirement for critical identification; viz., that putative identities must be confirmed with reference to detailed descriptions. Both contain a wealth of introductory material and ecologial information, along with distribution maps for each species. The former has brief morphological descriptions of each species, supported by excellent photographs of foraging bees and of male genitalia, but in lieu of a proper key it offers a chart, with superscripted names necessitating ponderous cross referencing. The latter has separate dichotomous keys for male and female Bumlebees and Cuckoo-bees and is copiously illustrated by good line drawings; but no species descriptions are provided, and even if they gave complete coverage, the coloured plates would be inadequate for confirming identifications.

This package is at an early stage of development. It is readily accessible for improving, correcting and extending, and constructive input would be welcomed.