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Red-tailed bumblebee

(Bombus lapidarius)

A Red-tailed bumblebee queen feeding on small purple flowers.
A close-up of purple wildflowers on a farm verge.

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

Where to find
They are found in most habitats (gardens, parks, and the wider countryside)

A small male Red-tailed bumblebee clings to the back of a much larger female queen bumblebee as she prepares to fly from a purple, thistle-like flower

Active period

Red-tailed bumblebee queens emerge from hibernation from March onwards.

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

This species can sometimes have a partial generation and be seen up to the end of September.

An identification illustration of a Red-tailed bumblebee queen, worker and male.

Description

Queens and workers are similar, with velvety black hair and extensive bright red tails. Males have a strong yellow collar band at the front of the thorax, and a second band at the back of the thorax which varies in extent and intensity. The abdomen is black except for the red tail. Males also have yellow facial hair.

Red-tailed bumblebees nest mainly in underground or enclosed locations and their nests can be large with up to 300 workers.

This species has a medium-length tongue and feeds on a range of flowers such as dandelions, knapweeds and lavender.

Similar species and differences

The Red-shanked carder bumblebee (Bombus ruderarius) is smaller and has fluffier hair. Queens and workers have red hairs fringing the pollen basket. Males have black facial hair.

The Red-tailed cuckoo bumblebee (Bombus rupestris) has very dark wings in comparison and sparser hair. Males have black facial hair.

The Early bumblebee (Bombus pratorum) has yellow bands on the thorax (unlike female Red-tailed bumblebees), and males also have a yellow abdominal band (unlike male Red-tailed bumblebees). This is generally a fluffier and smaller species too.