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Barbut’s cuckoo bumblebee

(Bombus barbutellus)

A Barbut's cuckoo bumblebee feeding on a purple thistle.
A sloping field of long grassland and wildflowers.

Status
This is a less common but still widespread bumblebee, found mostly in central and southern England.

Where to find
They are found in most habitats (gardens, parks, and the wider countryside) where their host species, the Garden bumblebee (Bombus hortorum) and the Ruderal bumblebee (Bombus ruderatus) are present.

A Barbut's cuckoo bumblebee male feeding on a pink flower.

Nick Owens

Active period

Forest cuckoo females emerge from hibernation in April and May.

It is a cuckoo bumblebee so doesn’t have a worker caste, and new females and males can be seen up to the end of September.

An identification illustration of a Barbut's cuckoo bumblebee female and male.

Description

Females and males have two thick yellow bands on the thorax and a yellow band at the front of the abdomen. The abdominal band can vary in hue, strength, and extent. The tail is greyish white, with no yellow hairs.

As with all cuckoo bumblebees, it also has darker wing membranes, hairy hind legs in both sexes (no pollen baskets), and sparser hair which allows the shiny exoskeleton to show through.

This species has a short tongue and it often feeds on flowers such as dandelions and brambles.

Similar species and differences

Southern cuckoo (Bombus vestalis) and Gypsy cuckoo (Bombus bohemicus) bumblebees can appear similar but both usually have yellow patches at the front of the tail which are absent in Barbut’s cuckoo.

The Garden bumblebee (Bombus hortorum) and the Ruderal bumblebee (Bombus ruderatus) have the same three yellow bands and white tail pattern but have much longer faces and a much denser covering of hair.