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- Bumblebees foraging in the winter
Bumblebees foraging in the winter
To my great surprise, just before Christmas, I saw a queen buff-tailed bumblebee (Bombus terrestris) foraging on the cyclamen plants for sale outside Budgens, Drury Road, Colchester. She moved very fast, darting from flower to flower. Her pollen baskets were fully loaded.
Queen buff-tailed bumblebee foraging on a cyclamen flower. 23 December 2023.
Later, I captured her with her tongue inside the flower, probably she was just having a drink. Cyclamen flowers dangle upside down and their petals are upturned, hence the reproductive organs are exposed at the bottom thus explaining the bumblebee’s stance.
Queen buff-tailed bumblebee dipping into a flower. 23 December 2023.
Buff-tailed bumblebee queens became notorious, in the last 30 years, for being active during the winter. In urban areas they are often seen on Mahonia, winter honeysuckle, strawberry tree and winter-flowering heather, followed by snowdrops, hellebores and crocus; but cyclamens were new to me.
The extra surprise was seeing a ‘worker’ female, too fast for my mobile phone camera, though. This means that nesting was under way, which again fits with records collected since the 90’s when their exceptional behaviour became noticeable.
Traditionally the queens of most bumblebee species spend the winter hibernating, living on their fat reserves and only become active in the Spring. Then a queen must gather enough food to enable her to start a nest. By early summer the first brood will be ‘worker’ females which will make the queen’s task much easier. Later the offspring will be males and new queens to enable the colony to reproduce. After mating the males will die and the new queens will find a place to start a colony of their own the next year. The old queen, unlike a honeybee queen, will die along with the workers and her colony will vanish.
However in the case of the buff-tailed bumblebee the lifecycle has speeded up and in some cases mating pairs having been found in the Spring.
Your feedback will be most appreciated. Please, get in touch with me when you find anything exciting or puzzling.
Maria Fremlin, 6 January 2024