This vividly coloured little bumble is the male of the tiny meadow bee, whose workers are predominantly velvet black. Like the males of other bumble species, he can be distinguished by the yellow hairs on his face, but also by much more generous yellow striping than his sisters.
Usually the drones are out around mid-June, but here and over at Murtagh’s Meadow they were spotted on May 28th, and they have been early in other parts of the country too.
The emergence of drones can signal the failure of a colony, or that it is drawing towards the end of its natural cycle. But so far this year the number of Meadow bees spotted has more than tripled on last year, so they would seem to be having a very good season.
There is one other intriguing possibility, which Tomas Murray points out in the monthly Bumblebee Monitoring Scheme newsletter: in southern Europe and southern England Meadow bees can raise a second generation. If we start to see early new Queens alongside the drones, that would suggest that the same pattern is now setting in here.
Tomas has helpfully provided this comparison chart for spotting drones and queens.