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White-tailed bumblebee

(Bombus lucorum)

A White-tailed bumblebee feeding on a purple globe of flowers.
A field of purple wildflowers and four people standing together holding bumblebee nets.

Aydan Khan

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 White-tailed bumblebee preparing to land on white willow catkins.

Andy Jones

Active period

White-tailed bumblebee queens emerge from hibernation in March and April.

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

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

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Description

Queens are quite large, with a lemon-yellow collar band at the front of the thorax and another across the middle of the abdomen. Workers are smaller versions of queens. Males have bright yellow facial hair, and varying amounts of yellow hair on the body. They always have the yellow collar and abdomen bands found in females, but in addition they have yellow hairs at the back of the abdomen and all three bands frequently expand and spread, sometimes making them appear predominantly yellow. All three castes always have a bright white tail, with no yellow hairs.

White-tailed bumblebees often nest underground in old rodent holes, and nests can have around 200 workers.

This species has a short tongue, and is a generalist forager, with no strong preferences. However, it struggles to feed from long tubular flowers due to the short tongue.

Similar species and differences

The White-tailed bumblebee (Bombus lucorum) is actually a complex of three species which includes the Cryptic White-tailed bumblebee (Bombus cryptarum) and the Northern White-tailed bumblebee (Bombus magnus). These three species are currently only reliably distinguished by DNA testing.

Buff-tailed bumblebee (Bombus terrestris) queens have the same banding pattern as White-tailed queens, but the tail is usually clearly buff in colour rather than white. Both male and worker Buff-tailed bumblebees can be very similar to the White-tailed workers but may have some buff in the tail. Sometimes the workers of these two species cannot be told apart.

The Southern cuckoo (Bombus vestalis) and Gypsy cuckoo (Bombus bohemicus) and Forest cuckoo (Bombus sylvestris) bumblebees can look similar to queen or worker White-tailed bumblebees, but they usually have yellow patches on either side of the abdomen, at the front of the tail. These three species also have the hairy hind legs characteristic of cuckoo bumblebees.

The scarce Broken-belted bumblebee (Bombus soroeensis) is similar but the crescent-shaped yellow abdominal band extends forwards onto the first abdominal segment (always rectangular and only on the second segment in queen and worker White-tailed bumblebees), and in males the front of the white tail often contains a thick orange fringe. The Broken-belted bumblebee is a much scarcer species, mostly found in upland areas.