Monday, 16 January 2012


My last post has provoked a comment from someone I hold dear that I sound like a moaning old codger or words to that effect. So in an effort to maintain a status quo of normality here is a belated post regarding my growing interest in bumblebees. Whilst there are only a small number of UK species, I’m finding them quite hard to identify. I’m lucky though in that going to Grain I’m getting experience of a couple of the rare species to be found in Kent, namely shrill carder Bombus sylvarum and large carder bee Bombus muscorum. Shrill carder bee has a distribution in Kent that is mainly confined to the Thames corridor although it does appear to now be cropping up in a few other coastal localities within the county. It is quite a small but distinctive bee with an obvious dark furry saddle across the thorax between the two wing joints probably being the easiest id feature although you need to be wary as older bees of other carder species can show a black mark where the body fur has worn away. In fresh condition they also show an orange red tail.



Then onto the large carder bee B muscorum.


I found the above presumed Queen, hanging on this flower on a cool and damp September morning. The problem with trying to id B. muscorum is that it is very similar to brown banded carder bee Bombus humilis. Plus you also have to rule out common carder Bombus pascuorum, which can be done by checking the colour of the hairs of the pollen basket in the queens and workers (i.e. all the females), so, easy isn’t it.

The following 4 photos are almost certainly B. muscorum (large carder bee), well I cannot see a black hair on the pollen basket. There is also the separation feature from common carder B. pascuorum of no black hairs on the side of the abdomen which can sometimes be very extensive.





Now this little chap and yes I think it is a drone (male) on the shape of the antennae but I could be wrong is a common carder B pascuorum but you couldn’t really tell from this photo alone and i’ve probably got the id wrong anyway.


Now onto something a little different from carders. I think the following two photos show Bombus ruderarius or red-shanked carder bee.


The features on this declining species being the orange hairs on the hind tibia, the abdomen being about as long as it is wide and the pale coloured wings. This hopefully separates it from Bombus lapidarius red-tailed bumblebee and Bombus rupestris hill cuckoo bee, both being commoner, so i’m sticking my neck out here going for the rarer of the 3.

Now the next photo is interesting in that I took it at Darenth CountryPark and I think it is a B. humilis or muscorum which just could be a new site. Although I could have got it totally wrong and it is a common carder B. pascuorum, is that a dark hair on the pollen basket?

humilis_muscorum_11_08_09_darenth country park_046

So bumblebees are cute, cuddly, furry, funny make great noises especially when they get stuck in a foxglove flower and are not easy to identify. Grain has a couple of rarer species and they are proposing to build an airport there what a tragedy if it went ahead.

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