Dorset Wildlife

The Common Carder Bumblebee

It seems hard to believe that Autumn is just around the corner. There are few tangible signs yet to herald its imminent arrival… trees and hedgerows are still fully clothed in vibrant lush greens; the garden is abuzz with insects; and swallows are swirling and swooshing in the sky above our house, showing no sign whatsoever that they are soon to begin their epic journey back to Africa.

Image by: Brigit Strawbridge

But change is in the air. Though there are still plenty of bees collecting nectar and pollen from our flowering plants, I am beginning to notice fewer ‘types’ of bumblebee visitors. The life-cycles of most bumblebees are now over for this year. Fresh new queens have already emerged, mated, and gone into hibernation – whilst workers, males, and colony founding queens are no longer with us.

There is one particular species though, that always lingers longer than the others; namely Bombus pascuorum – the Common Carder bumblebee. Common Carders are one of my favourite bee species. I can’t quite put my finger on why this might be, something to do with their gentle demeanour perhaps – and the fact they never complain when disturbed. Not to mention their pretty colouring, which is usually referred to as ‘ginger’ but actually varies from from foxy orange, through rusty brown, to faded gold. The hairs on their sides are mostly creamy white, but sometimes yellow. These bees vary hugely in size as well, so you would be forgiven, as you watched a group foraging together on a flowering plant, for thinking you were looking at half a dozen different species.

Common Carder bumblebees have one of the longest life-cycles of any bumblebee, the colony carrying on producing new workers, males, and daughter queens, well into September, and often into October too. In fact I have this very afternoon come across an active nest, in an old stone wall in the lane near our house, and the bees weren’t even slightly put out as I filmed their comings and goings. Old stone walls are not where I would expect to find this species nesting (which is why I was filming them), as they are noted for nesting above ground, often in tussocky grass, where the founding queen makes use of moss and dry grass to cover their nest

So if you see a beautiful ginger looking bumblebee this month in your garden, or whilst you are out and about on your walks, take a closer look… she’s probably a Common Carder bumblebee.

By: Brigit Strawbridge

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