Really Big Bumble Bees

It’s years since we tried to grow sunflowers, in fact the only time I can remember doing so in Canada was the first summer we were here when we had them like soldiers on either side of the front porch and steps … this year, the birds have carefully planted a single sunflower seed taken from the feeders we provide (about one big sack of seed a month) and placed it right beside the pond. It’s a smallvarierty, a bare three feet tall but it stands there proudly and in the last week the flower opened.

Shortly thereafter it was visited by a couple of Bumble Bees.

Now bees are always interesting and a year or two ago we deided to take particular note of Bumble Bees, several species of which we see in the garden and aorund our local patch … how hard can identifying Bumble Bees be, after all? We should have known better. The purchase and perusal of “Bumble Bees of North America – An identification Guide” by Williams et al (Princeton Press – 2014) soon put us right. Identifying Bumble Bees is jolly difficult unless you have the specimen pinned out on a cork board in front of you and are in possession of a good dissecting microscope.

More recently we found the Bumble Bee Watch app for iPhones and this is its first serious test. This app is part of a citizen science project dedicated to tracking and conserving North America’s bumble bees and claims to be “the best way to learn and engage with bumble bees around you and to contribute sightings to this important citizen science project”. Well, it is certainly easier than the field guide.

Note the Trumpian yellow haircut

Now, back to our sunflower bees. After taking good photographs and cross-checking between the phone app and the book we have concluded that these really big bees, almost an inch in length, are more than likely Two-spotted Bumble Bees (Bombus bimaculatus) and really pretty common, when all is told. There a couple of other species that are superficially similar but “our” bees have a little tuft of yellow hairs on their heads – a bit like Trump – and that makes them B. bimaculatus.

So now you know and are better for the knowledge. I have to say that without catching and pinning samples, it may be some time before we are equally confident about the ID of other Bumble Bees … but we’ll keep you up to date if we do find any of note. Birds are a lot easier 🙂

Final note, something for you to read … there is a thoroughly excellent book for those who like bees and are interested in conservation. It’s called “Bee Quest” by Dave Goulson, a bee expert from a UK university who has travelled the world in search of really interesting bees. He is the sort of expert who can identify them by a glance in the field … a level of skill we doubt we shall achieve. Anyway, jolly good book, extremely readable, quite witty in parts and full of right-on commentary about conservation and the state of the natural world. You can get it from Kindle with a click of the mouse. Descriptive Quote: “A hunt for the world’s most elusive bees leads Dave Goulson from Salisbury plain to Sussex hedgerows, from Poland to Patagonia. Whether he is tracking great yellow bumblebees in the Hebrides or chasing orchid bees through the Ecuadorian jungle, Dave Goulson’s wit, humour and deep love of nature make him the ideal travelling companion. “


“Bee Quest” by Dave Goulson 

Bumble Bee Watch 

Bumble Bees of North America – An identification Guide

Featured Image
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Two-spotted Bumble Bee