British Insects: Bumblebees and Cuckoo-bees

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L. Watson and M. J. Dallwitz

Bombus Latreille

Humble- or Bumble-bees.

Biology. Social insects forming organized communities; the adult populations including specialised, sterile females constituting ‘workers’; the larvae feeding on pollen and nectar gathered and prepared by the adult females. Nesting underground, or on the surface of the ground, or only just below (also in locations provided by humans, such as coat pockets, lawn mowers, furniture drawers, etc.).

Adult morphology. Adults about 10–22 mm long. The mandibles of the females round-ended, not oblique. Antennal segments 12 (females), or 13 (males). Thorax banded, or not banded (unpatterned black or ginger, or conspicuously patterned with black and grey, whitish, pale brownish, yellowish or gingerish). Closed fore-wing cells 6–10. The outer surface of the hind tibiae of females with a conspicuous ‘pollen basket’, in the form of an elongate, shiny, hairless, area framed by stout hairs. The hind tibiae of the males having a fringe of long hairs along the outer margin.

The abdomen when concolorous, black, dark brown, reddish brown, ginger or rarely yellow; when patterned, black-and-orange or reddish orange, black-and-brown or reddish brown, black-and-yellow, black-and-white, black and grey and yellow, or black and yellow and white. Dorsally visible abdominal segments 6 (females), or 7 (males). Abdomen not conspicuously patterned, or conspicuously patterned. Sternite 6 of females without ventro-lateral keels.

Male genitalia. The ends of the claspers dark and horny.

British representation. About 20 species in the British Isles (with over twenty subspecies); recorded from England, Wales, Mainland Scotland, Hebrides, Orkney, Shetland, Channel Isles, and Ireland. Throughout the British Isles.

General comments. The adult males have no sting and bigger eyes than the females, as well as 13-segmented antennae that are longer than the 12-segmented ones of females. In addition to details of the hind tibiae (q.v.), Bombus adults differ from those of Psithyrus in the often less pigmented wings; the female abdomen is hairier, less pointed and softer, exuding wax between its segments, and the mandibles are more toothed (for moulding wax) than pointed..

Illustrations. • Bombus lapidarius (Red-tailed Bumble-bee: Shaw and Nodder, about 1800). • British Bombus spp. (1): Saunders. • British Bombus spp. (2): Saunders. • British Bombus species (3): Saunders. • British Bombus species (4): Saunders. • Bombus soroeensis, B. terrestris and Apis mellifera: Saunders. • cf. Bombus pascuorum (Carder Bee): as Bombus cognatus, Stephens 1846. • Bombus ericetorum Panzer (Heath Humble-bee), cf. male B. subterraneus: B. Ent. 564. • Bombus ericetorum: B. Ent. 564, legend+text. • Bombus ericetorum: B. Ent. 564, text cont.. • Comparing females of B. pascuorum and B. lapidarius with associated Cuckoo-bees (P. campestris and P. rupestris). • Male genital capsules of Bombus and Psithyrus.


To view illustrations with legends giving names in current use, go to the interactive key. This also offers full and partial descriptions, diagnostic descriptions, differences and similarities between taxa, lists of taxa exhibiting or lacking specified attributes, and distributions of character states within any set of taxa, as well as source references and other relevant material.

Cite this publication as: ‘Watson, L., and Dallwitz, M.J. 2003 onwards. British insects: Bumblebees and Cuckoobees. Version: 1st January 2012. http://delta-intkey.com’.

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