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Moss carder bumblebee

(Bombus muscorum)

A Moss carder bumblebee with loaded pollen baskets feeding on a pink flower.
A machair with colourful wildflowers.

Photo: Claire Wales

Status
This is a scarce bumblebee which tends to be found mostly in coastal areas in England and Wales. In Scotland it is mostly found in the northwest Highlands and Islands.

Where to find
They are found in flowery grasslands, marshes and moors.

A Moss carder bumblebee feeding on a bright yellow flower.

Pieter Haringsma

Active period

Moss carder bumblebee queens emerge from hibernation in April and May and usually nest on or just below the surface of the ground amongst long grass or mossy vegetation. Nests can have up to 100 workers..

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

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

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

Description

All three castes (queen, worker and male) are similar, with a neat velvety covering of gingery brown hair on top of the thorax, with yellow hair on the sides of the thorax and ginger and yellow on the abdomen. Occasionally some individuals (particularly queens) show a ginger-brown band on the abdomen.

There are several island colour forms of the Moss carder bumblebee, found particularly on the Outer Hebrides, Shetland, Scillies, and the Channel Islands. These typically have a dark ginger thorax and paler abdomen along with black undersides, head and legs.

This species has a long tongue, and it often feeds on red clover and bird’s foot trefoil.

Similar species and differences

The Common carder bumblebee (Bombus pascuorum) has similar colouring but tends to be duller brown/beige rather than ginger/yellow, has longer scruffier hair, and always has black hairs on the abdomen .

The Brown-banded carder bumblebee (Bombus humilis) has similar bright yellow and ginger colouring with no black abdominal hairs, but has a scattering of black hairs around the wing bases (not present in Moss carder). This is likely to require checking with a hand lens. There is often (especially in queens) a ginger band on the second abdominal section, though this can be confused with the darker hairs present in both the Moss and Common carder.

The Shrill carder bumblebee (Bombus sylvarum) has a band of black hair between the wing bases on the thorax, and shows pale straw coloured hair bands rather than ginger. It also has a distinct orange-red tail.