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Forest cuckoo bumblebee

(Bombus sylvestris)

A close-up of a Forest cuckoo bumblebee feeding on a pale purple flower.
A woodland with a carpet of spring flowers including bluebells.

Bex Cartwright

Status
This is a less common but still widespread bumblebee, found across the UK.

Where to find
They are found in most habitats (gardens, parks, and the wider countryside) where their host species, the Early bumblebee (Bombus pratorum), the Heath bumblebee (Bombus jonellus) and the Bilberry bumblebee (Bombus monticola) are present.

A Forest cuckoo bumblebee feeding on white clover.

Photo: Forest cuckoo bumblebee (Bombus sylvestris) by Nick Owens

Active period

Forest cuckoo females emerge from hibernation between April and June.

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 August.

An identification illustration of a Forest cuckoo bumblebee female and male.

Description

Females have a strong yellow band at the front of the thorax and a fainter yellow band on the abdomen, with a white tail. Males show the same pattern but the very tip of their tails have a small brush of red 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 thistles and scabious.

Similar species and differences

Females of Barbut’s cuckoo bumblebee (Bombus barbutellus) are similar (a cuckoo bumblebee with an all-white tail) but has a clear second yellow band on the thorax.