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Heath bumblebee

(Bombus jonellus)

A possible Heath bumblebee queen feeding on small pink flowers.
A landscape of heather-clad slopes with mountains in the background. A bumblebee if flying towards the heather.

Annie Ives

Status
This is one of the Big Eight common and widespread bumblebees.

Where to find
They can be found in most habitats (gardens, parks, and the wider countryside) but are most abundant in acid areas on heath and moorland.

A Heath bumblebee feeding on a bright yellow flower.

Nick Owens

Active period

Heath bumblebee queens emerge from hibernation from February onwards.

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

This species can have a partial second generation in the south of the UK and be seen up to the end of September.

An identification illustration of a Heath bumblebee queen, worker and male, amd the short face.

Description

This is a small, fluffy bumblebee. All three castes (queen, worker and male) are similar, with yellow bands on the front and back of the thorax, one yellow band at the front of the abdomen, and a white tail. Males have yellow hair on the face.

Heath bumblebees nest in old rodent nests and amongst leaf litter. Nests have up to 50 workers.

This species has a short face and tongue, and it often feeds on heathers.

Similar species and differences

The Garden bumblebee (Bombus hortorum) and Ruderal bumblebee (Bombus ruderatus) both have similar banding patterns and tail colours but are generally much larger bees with longer faces. Males of both species have black hair (not yellow) on the face. The Ruderal bumblebee is a much scarcer species with a more southerly distribution.

White-tailed bumblebee (Bombus lucorum) males can look similar, but the Heath bumblebee abdominal band is strongest on the first abdominal section, fading out on the second, whereas White-tailed bumblebees have their abdominal band on the second abdominal section.