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Bilberry bumblebee

(Bombus monticola)

A Bilberry bumblebee feeding on a flower.
An upland landscape with bilberry-covered slopes, pine trees, and mountains in the background.

Ben Lawers

Status
This is a scarce bumblebee which is only found in certain areas or habitats. It is found mostly in the north and west of the UK.

Where to find
They are mostly found in upland areas, like moorlands and mountains.

A Bilberry bumbleblee hanging upside down on a purple flower, which it is feeding from.

Jamie Buxton-Gould

Active period

Bilberry bumblebee queens emerge from hibernation from April onwards.

Workers appear roughly 6 weeks after the nest is established, and new queens and males are produced towards the end of the two to four month nesting period.

This species can be seen up to the end of September.

An identification illustration of a Bilberry bumblebee queen, worker and male.

Description

All three castes (queen, worker and male) are similar, with yellow bands on the front and back of the thorax, a black abdomen and a large red tail which extends over half the abdomen. All castes can have a yellow face but males tend to be brighter, as well as having longer hair.

Bilberry bumblebees nest amongst tussocky grass on the surface of the ground or just below the surface, and have around 50 to 70 workers.

This species has a long tongue and feeds on a range of flowers such as bilberry, heather, white clover, and bird’s foot trefoils.

Similar species and differences

Red-tailed bumblebee (Bombus lapidarius) males have much less extensive red tails (less than half the abdomen) and females have no yellow bands.

The Early bumblebee (Bombus monticola) has a much smaller tail, usually covering just the tip of the abdomen.