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Gypsy cuckoo bumblebee

(Bombus bohemicus)

A Gypsy cuckoo bumblebee male feeding on a pink flower.
A landscape of heather-clad slopes with mountains in the background. A bumblebee if flying towards the heather.

Annie Ives

Status
This is a less common but still widespread bumblebee, although found more frequently in Scotland than England and Wales.

Where to find
They are found in heath, moorland and upland areas where their host species, the White-tailed bumblebee (Bombus lucorum) is present.

A Gypsy cuckoo bumblebee feeding on a large pink globe flower.

Nick Owens

Active period

Gypsy 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 August.

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

Description

Females have a strong yellow band at the front of the thorax, and a fainter band at the back. Males have bands front and back of the thorax, and a fainter band at the front of the abdomen. Both have a white tail with yellow patches at the sides of the top of the tail.

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 brambles.

Similar species and differences

The Southern cuckoo (Bombus vestalis) has a similar colour pattern, and is the only other UK species which has the yellow patches either side of the tail. These patches tend to be larger and brighter than the lighter sandy yellow in the Gypsy cuckoo, but these species can be very difficult to reliably separate without close inspection of the individual bees.