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Field cuckoo bumblebee

(Bombus campestris)

A close-up of a Field cuckoo bumblebee feeding on a pale purple flower.
A field of wildflowers. In the distance are three people walking.

Status
This is a less common but still widespread bumblebee.

Where to find
They are found in most habitats (gardens, parks, and the wider countryside) where their Common carder bumblebee (Bombus pascuorum) host is present.

A Field cuckoo bumblebee male feeding on lavender.

Chloe Headdon

Active period

Field cuckoo females emerge from hibernation from April onwards.

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 illustrations of a Field cuckoo bumblebee female and two Field cuckoo bumblebee males (light form and dark form).

Description

Females have two yellow bands at the front and back of the thorax and a yellow tail. Males are quite variable, but generally have yellow bands at the front and back of the thorax, a yellow band at the front of the abdomen, and a yellow tail. In pale individuals these yellow areas may almost meet, while in dark individuals they can be heavily reduced.

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 scabious and thistles.

Similar species and differences

The Great Yellow bumblebee (Bombus distinguendus) can look similar but has a much more dense covering of neat hair and their distribution ranges do not overlap.

The Shrill carder bumblebee (Bombus sylvarum) has a similar thoracic pattern, but always has a red tail, not yellow.

Melanic individuals of several species can look similar (most commonly the Garden, Ruderal, and Tree bumblebees), and will often require close examination of individual bees to see the colour of any remaining non-black hairs, as well as structural characters such as face length.