Four firsts in a day

1-Bumble pollen

Today (21.2.14) I saw the first bumble bee in my plum tree with a very healthy looking pollen load.  I’ve been seeing lots of queens throughout the winter but none were gathering pollen.  This one has decided its time to start making use of the abundant blossom pollen that is around and start building a nest.

1-Bee parasitised

The next first is not so nice so don’t look at the next two photographs if you are of a sensitive disposition.  I noticed a tiny mining bee making a hole in the ground beside the stem of a daisy in the grass.

1-bee wounded

It was not until I had looked at the photographs on the computer that I realised that there was a gaping hole in its abdomen.  I suppose a parasite has made a meal out part of the bee and it will not survive for much longer.

1-New bee hole

Passing on, I was surprised to notice several new heaps of soil underneath the plum tree which means that the first mining bees are emerging.  It seems very early and I am not quite as far on as I had hoped in my reading.  Last year there were two types of mining bee under the plum tree that I saw.  I watched the holes as much as I could but I saw no bees coming and going.

Bombus lapidarius

And fourthly, I saw my first Bombus lapidarius of the year.  She was looking still very groggy from her winter hibernation and was walking around in the grass.

Bombus lapidarius

In fact, I was getting a bit concerned for her well being and I tried to give her some sugar and water and I put her on a sunny stone step to warm up.  She ignored the sugar and water but enjoyed the sunshine and finally lifted off with the grace of a vertical take-off jet.

According to F.W.L. Sladen the only species I could confuse her with is Bombus ruderarius which although much rarer is very similar but has red hairs around the corbicula or pollen basket.

Corbicular hairs

While she was sunbathing I got a good picture of her hind legs and the black hair, so I am satisfied she is Bombus lapidarius, or the red-tailed bumblebee.



Like all the bumblebees she loves our Wisteria.

Red tailed male

Red tailed male

This photograph is from August last year and shows the male.  He has yellow hair on his face and a yellow band in front of the black thorax.



I like bees and I’d like to think the feeling is mutual.



15 thoughts on “Four firsts in a day

  1. I’ve never seen mining bees, but now I know what to look for. I’ve seen a wasp chew about half of a bee’s abdomen and it was still alive…not a pretty sight. You scored big time with all four of your ‘firsts.’ Congratulations… You must be a patient observer of nature.


    • I think it is all about having an idea what to look for. If you see any “bald” patches in grass with tiny “mole hills” it is probably bees nesting. The other good place to keep an eye open is on a sunny bank of earth, especially if it is chalky soil. Amelia


  2. Hello A,
    Lovely photos as always and very envious of all your bee activity already! Still not seen a single bee up here, which is late as I can remember in spite of the very mild winter. Re the bee with the hole in it, and such issues I wonder if your French bumblebees ( particularly B. terrestris and B. pratorum) seem to be covered in mites early in the year? Ours nearly always are, and I’d been told that they’re non parasitic – simply nest tidiers, but I find this hard to believe, since the bees seem bothered by them….I couldn’t see any mites on the bee above.


    • I’ve seen no mites on the bumblebees this year but theoretically that makes sense as they should not be in a nest. They should be holed up somewhere cosy to pass the winter. When the time arrives they look for a suitable nesting site and I watch them do that – they are very choosy.
      On the other hand my Carpenter did have mites and that was another first. They are more likely to over winter in holes in the wood that are nests as they over winter as adults.
      The Bumblebee Conservation Trust advises, if heavily infested, to wipe the mites off the bumblebees using a child’s paintbrush. You first.
      On second thoughts, you could say they carry the mites from the original nest. mmm.


  3. Fascinating photos, thank you! I was wondering if you keep honeybees as well, or if you prefer to watch them ‘in the wild’? And are there any books that you’ve found particularly helpful with identifying bees? Love the photo of the bee on your scarf! I went out to have a look at the hives in our garden yesterday, and a huge bee came to have a look at me and sat on my hand for a while…


  4. Your bee parasite could be Strepsiptera. They are weird creatures. A friend of mine in Paris whose stamping ground is the cemetery of Montmartre is quite interested in them and photographs them whenever he can.

    At this time of year a big red tailed bumble with no yellow is always going to be lapidarius. The red on the corbicular hairs of ruderarius are really obvious btw. Ruderarius emerges in April or later. You can see them in flight if you know what you are looking for. It would be possible to confuse lapidarius for other species too — its cuckoo rupestris, or even monticola, or pratorum (less likely as most people are familiar with this species).


  5. Thanks but I’m thinking – could I get closer? Could I use a HSS flash? Should I try a diopter (I’m not sure if that is what you call the magnifying lens)? I suppose the answer is – yes, get on and try it.


  6. Pingback: Bees and Trees seen in Devon | Philip Strange Science Writing

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