Step 2. Banding
Count how many bands are on the bumblebee's body. Red-tailed bumblebees can have no yellow bands, or they may have several, depending on the species and caste.
Step 3. True or cuckoo bumblebee?
Cuckoo bumblebees, like male ‘true’ bumblebees, have hairy hind legs with no pollen baskets, but they also have relatively dark wing membranes, a v-shaped or gently-scalloped edge to the top of the tail colouration, a small brush of black hairs at the end of the abdomen, and short faces (if your bee has a long face then it’s definitely not a cuckoo).
Step 4. Caste
Working out what caste (queen, worker or male) your bee is can sometimes be easier than getting it to species, and is always helpful in that process.
Queens and workers are generally very similar to each other, with a couple of exceptions. Queen Buff-tailed bumblebees have an orangey-buff tail, whereas workers of the same species have white tails (and are thus often indistinguishable from worker White-tailed bumblebees). Additionally, worker Early bumblebees often lose the yellow abdominal band of the queen, looking much darker than their parent.
Generally, male bumblebees have hairy hind legs without a pollen basket (though beware female cuckoo bees, which also have hairy hind legs). Males also usually have more facial hair than females (either queens or workers) – and in several species this is a bright, obvious yellow. Males also generally have longer, more straggly hair, so if your bee has hairy legs, a moustache, and looks slightly unkempt it’s probably a male.
Click on the illustrations below to find out more about each bumblebee species and their distinguishing features.
Not one of these? Either go back to step one or click here to see the full illustrated guide to all the UK's bumblebees.
Did you know that by identifying bumblebee species you can help us to conserve them? You can do this by adding your bumblebee sightings to the online wildlife recording survey iRecord, or by signing up for BeeWalk, our national monitoring scheme where you walk a short local transect once a month, recording the bumblebees you see along the way.