How variable is variable?

How variable is variable?

bombus-brown-band

It all started when I saw this bumble bee on my winter flowering honeysuckle on 12 December 2016.  Usually I see only the B. terrestris (queens and workers) and the honey bees just now.  I recognised it as a bumble bee that I see frequently around here in the spring and I thought I would have another go at identifying it.

5-4-13

This is me in April 2013 trying to get close up, to see if I could learn a bit more about bumble bees.  This is what I thought must be pascorum, the commonest carder.

bombus-27-4-11

Going back to April 2011, my stripey common carder bee.

6-3-14

This is 6 March 2014 and these fluffy carders are a favourite – common or not.

12-8-13

In addition to these completely fluffy, stripey ones, I also see ones with this dark brown band around the top of their abdomen.  It must be a brown-banded bumble bee, I thought in my naivety.  However, these bees do not check out to Stephen Falk’s description in the “Field Guide to the bees of Great Britain and Ireland”.  It was at this point I gave up going further with bumble bees.

I have now compared Bombus humilis in Atlas Hymenoptera Les bourdons de la Belgique and although B. humilis has now all but vanished in Belgium, one of the three types of examples (yes, three) looks very much like my brown banded bee.

I must admit that the three types of B.humilis in the Atlas Hymenoptera do not look like the same bee to me which leads me again into despair of the variations of colourings in bumble bees.

So what should my conclusion be?  Return to my “give up” position for identification?  Yet, The Bumblebee Conservation Trust  in the U.K. encourages amateurs to get involved.

I do not want to identify bees like a train spotter to increase my list but I think it is very unlikely that anyone else has ever tried to identify a bee in this area.  I would have liked to make an attempt, however crude, to quantify the diversity around me but perhaps this is not possible and samplings must be left to the experts.

 

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