Once seen, never forgotten – the Red-Tailed Bumblebee

 

Two-thirds velvety black, one-third orange-red, and on the large side of middling as bumbles go, Bombus Lapidarius is not an easy bee to overlook.

B. Lapidarius worker on  Meadow Geranium (G. Pratense)

B. Lapidarius worker on Meadow Geranium (G. Pratense)

Although it ranks as one of the half-dozen common Irish bumble species, it has not figured in these pages, as has simply not been turning up locally. A glance at the distribution map for Ireland shows that B. Lapidarius occurs in many places around the coast, but is less much less frequently recorded inland. Its preferred habitat is grassland at low elevations.

My first sighting (early October 2015) was coastal and quite dramatic – a group of four very brightly coloured and sleek red-tails lined up parallel along the edge of a path through sand dunes on the Mullet peninsula. They reacted to human presence by scrabbling rather drunkenly into the grass – see image.

at first sighting all lined up parallel facing into the sandy pathway

at first sighting all lined up parallel facing into the sandy pathway

The last to move, though, walked the entire width of the path before climbing up a grass stem to launch herself into the air; she was clearly new to the flying business, and the whole group just-emerged queens from a nearby nest. In the early days of October, there was scant forage left on the dunes, but as the red-tails have a foraging range of around 2km, they may have found enough to carry them through hibernation.

in mid-April this year, I was quite surprised to find a Lapidarius Queen prospecting for a nest site along the local lane. She or a sibling appears to be have been successful in spite of the bad weather, as the occasional red-tailed worker has cropped up in the neighbourhood over the summer (first image).¿ Compared with other bumbles the red-tails do seem to be having a good season nationally. ( details from the IPI Bumblebee Monitoring Scheme).

This week’s red-tail was a slightly bleached drone with the distinctive yellow stripe behind the head, demonstrating that one colony at least has moved into the reproductive phase, and red-tails could well be around the valley next year.

 

Slightly faded drone on knapweed, Mid-September

Slightly faded drone on knapweed, Mid-September

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