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Southern cuckoo bumblebee

(Bombus vestalis)

A Southern cuckoo bumblebee feeding on a pink flower.
A field of wildflowers in a wildlife area.

Helen King

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

Where to find
They are found in most habitats (gardens, parks, and the wider countryside) where their host species, the Buff-tailed bumblebee (Bombus terrestris) is present.

A close-up of a Southern cuckoo bumblebee feeding the purple flower of a thistle.

Richard Dowling

Active period

Southern cuckoo females usually emerge from hibernation from April onwards.

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 September.

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

Description

Females and males are similar, with one yellow band at the front of the thorax, and a white tail. There are yellow patches on either side of the front of the white tail. Males can have a faint yellow abdominal band.

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 dandelions and knapweeds.

Similar species and differences

The Gypsy cuckoo (Bombus bohemicus) 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 smaller and a lighter sand colour in comparison to the lemon yellow in the Southern cuckoo, but these species can be very difficult to reliably separate without close inspection of the individual bees.