Worcestershire Record No. 20 April 2007 p. 7

BUMBLEBEES FOR BEGINNERS

John Dodgson

Bumblebees are an excellent introduction to insects in general which can often seem somewhat formidable. There is a very good. booklet Bumblebees published by Richmond Publishing Co Ltd, PP Box 963, Slough SL2 3RS (Tel 0175: 643104) priced 9.95, p&p 2.50 . The keys are easy to use but one or two extra notes may be of help.

Ideally you need a freshly killed specimen but there are lots of already dead bees around the countryside in the summer. You find them on footpaths and other warm surfaces or as traffic casualties. Poke the corpse with a grass stalk to make sure it is dead - personal experience.

For dissection a couple of mounted needles are all that is needed with either a hard lens or ideally a dissecting microscope. If the specimen is desiccated then a couple of drops of water on the tip of the abdomen will soften the interesting bits. You can then use the needles to extract the male genital capsule or female sting sheaf.

The very common Bombus terrestris and Bombus lucorum can look very similar but the sting of terrestris tends to be darker (more chitinised).

Bumblebees are in two groups - the social bees and the cuckoo bees (both now included in genus Bombus). Cuckoo queens behave as parasites taking over the nest of the social species ousting the queen and enslaving her workers. Each cuckoo species specialises in a particular social species. The distribution of some of the cukoos is intriguing - my own records in VC37 fit the rational survey of the 1970s. A couple of examples. The very common and widespread B. lapidarius is parasitised by the cuckoo B. rupestris which is unexpectedly local in distribution. Also the common and widespread. B. lucorum is victimised by B. bohemicus is either very scarce or even absent from VC37. Others such as B. terrestris and its cuckoo B. vestalis are both common. Why?

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