Worcestershire Record No. 17 November 2004 p. 42


Harry Green

Nationally bumblebees are in severe decline. 50 years ago the midland counties were home to about 15 species. Nowadays only six species are relatively common and some of these are declining. The causes of the decline are mainly related to intensification of agriculture and the disappearance of a flower-rich countryside. Hopefully the introduction of new agri-environmental schemes, a new system of agricultural financial support, and the introduction of new farm stewardship schemes will improve matters.

Meanwhile records of bumblebees are very welcome. They are quite difficult to identify but there are good keys available (Benton 2000, Prŷs-Jones 1991).

Interestingly the Large Garden Bumblebee Bombus ruderatus (which is not usually a garden bumblebee!) has recently been discovered in Warwickshire. This is now a very scarce species subject to a national Biodiversity Action Plan. It is one of the three species of bumblebee with three yellowish bands – two on the thorax and one on the abdomen – with a white tail, a long face and a long tongue. It is quite similar to the relatively common Garden Bumblebee Bombus hortorum. Bombus ruderatus queens are usually larger than Bombus hortorum and as big as the familiar Buff-tailed Bumblebee Bombus terrestris (two yellow stripes and a buff tail). .The best chance of identifying the B ruderatus is by looking for the queens in spring. Melanic forms are produced which are very difficult to identify.

Long-tongued bees take nectar mainly from flowers with long corolla tubes. B. ruderatus is said to be particularly partial to White dead-nettle Lamium album, clovers and woundworts, so its worth hanging around patches of White dead-nettle. These flowers used by the Warwickshire species (Butler 2004). Stands of comfrey are also good hunting grounds for bumblebees and worth watching.

The only definite modern record we know of from Worcestershire is from Windmill Hill reserve near the Littletons (Knight 2000). To quote his report

“A melanic male bumble bee was found at the north end of Windmill Hill Reserve, near North Littleton, on 12th July 1999. Initial inspection suggested it might be Bombus ruderatus and so the specimen was sent to the National Recorder (Dr O Prŷs-Jones) for positive identification. After being examined by experts it is now agreed that "it meets all the criteria for B. ruderatus". The specimen has been retained by him for future reference”

The purpose of this nore is to encourage readers to tackle bumblebee identification and to look for Bombus ruderatus!


BENTON T 2000 The Bumblebees of Essex. Lopinga Books (This book is very useful far from Essex, containing keys and pictures).
BUTLER MAUREEN 2004 Special Report:Insect watchers a-buzz with good news. Cotswold & Vale Magazine No 70 September. (This short popular account describes the discovery by Philip Clayton of Bombus ruderatus in Warwickshire with colour photographs.)
KNIGHT TDK 2000 Bombus ruderatus, the Large Garden Bumble Bee at Windmill Hill. Worcestershire Record 9: 19.
PRŶS-JONES OE & CORBET SA 1991 Bumblebees. Richmond Press. (Naturalists’ Handbooks series with keys)

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