30 Days Wild – Day 6

The blue skies and sunshine first thing this morning made a walk around the garden a must-do before heading into work. I spotted a bumblebee on one of the ornamental garden shrubs which looked rather different to the usual red-tails and I managed to grab a couple of photos – luckily it was moving rather slowly as I don’t think the sun had yet warmed it properly.

The cuckoo bee – Bombus rupestris

The dark wings and the lack of a pollen basket on the hind leg identified this as a cuckoo bee – this is a bumblebee which mimics its host and then takes over the nest, killing the queen and establishing itself as the new queen. The queen cuckoo then goes on to produce new male and queen cuckoo bees, which are raised by the workers of the nest, thereby perpetuating the species. A very similar tactic indeed to its namesake, the cuckoo!

We have the red-tailed bumblebees (Bombus lapidarius) in the garden frequently, but this is the first time I have seen the cuckoo bee which parasitises the bee. This cuckoo bee is known as the hill cuckoo bee (Bombus rupestris).

This cuckoo bee is not rare, but it is described on the Bee, Wasp and Ant Recording Scheme as follows: Listed as a Notable (B) species Falk (1991) [now known as Scarce (Nb)], but becoming more abundant.”. I try to record as many species as I can on the national recording schemes so that the data can be used by others – all records are valuable and less usual species even more so to help build up a picture of their distribution.

A photo of the cuckoo bee showing the red tail – the hind legs are also lacking the pollen baskets which non-cuckoo bumblebee queens have to gather pollen to prepare their nests. This is because, rather than establishing their own nests, they simply take over the nests of their host!

I used the iRecord app to record the sighting – this is a wonderfully easy way for you to keep track of your own records and the data goes off to the relevant recording schemes. Downloadable on iPhone or Android, this app takes your GPS location, allows you to choose from a list of species, lets you add a photo and any comments you like.

Why not download the app and start contributing your sightings to the national picture as a great activity for #30dayswild!