Bumblebee queens feeding upon early flowers

March 27, 2012

in Bumblebees and their ecology, Gardening For Wildlife

Bumblebees feeding upon early spring flowers.

There are numerous books and web sites with information about bumblebee ecology, such as what flowers queen bumblebees will use at this critical time of the year for them. Flowers literally can be the life blood for queens and their success or failure in the Spring for newly emerged hibernating queens. The flowers can be crucial to the success or failure of their lives and colonies. Quite simply, no flowers for queens = no food = no bumblebees! So plant more flowers for the queens in your gardens, some of which are shown below. A photograph speaks more than words, so I am compiling photographs that people may find useful when selecting flowers and plants for queen bumblebees.

This article has been updated with a video  Jan 15


Queen bumblebee feeding upon white dead nettle- 15 April 2011


Queen bumblebee feeding upon Kilmarnock willow catkins march 2009


Queen bumblebee feeding upon willow catkins 23 March 2012


Queen carder bumblebee feeding upon dandelion 15 April 2011


Queen carder bumblebee feeding upon aubrieta 12 April 2011


Cuckoo bumblebee, B.vestalis feeding upon dandelion 16 April 2011


Red tailed queen bumblebee, B.lapidarius, feeding upon flowering currant 24 March 2012


Red tailed queen bumblebee, B.lapidarius, feeding upon flowering currant 24 March 2012


Red tailed queen bumblebee, B.lapidarius, feeding upon dandelion 17 April 2011


Bombus hortorum queen feeding on primroses 15 April 2011

Bumblebee queen on white comfrey (Symphytum oriental) 30 March 2012

Many bumblebee queens are unidentified in many cases as closer inspection was not possible either they flew off too quickly or simply were uncooperative in front of the camera!

white comfrey (Symphytum oriental) just after unidentified queen bumblebee had been feeding 30 March 2012


Cuckoo bumblebee (B.vestalis?) feeding on blackthorn 30 March 2012


Cuckoo bumblebee (B.vestalis?) feeding on blackthorn 30 March 2012

I saw at least 6 bumblebees feeding upon this blackthorn thicket but it was difficult to photograph. They all looked like the cuckoo bumblebee B. vestalis, although it is very early for this species and I can only assume that if they were cuckoos, the exceptionally warm weather we have just had brought them out of hibernation. I wonder how their early emergence will affect their success and therefore the ultimate success of their hosts bumblebees.

Bumblebee queen (B. pascuorum?) feeding upon Berberis Darwinii 1 April 2012


Bumblebee queen (B.terrestris/lucorum?) feeding upon early flowering heather 31 March 2012


Red tailed bumblebee queen B. lapidarius feeding on grape hyacinth (muscari)

I have also seen queen carder bumblebees, B. pascuorum feeding on these flowers

Recommended reading.
Quite simply, without the forage plants, bees will not survive hence:
“Plants for bees: A guide to the plants that benefit the bees of the British Isles” by W.D.J. Kirk and F.N. Howes.- Excellent updated book, covers wild and honey bees, with lavish photographs, written by experts.
“Garden Plants valuable to bees” by International Bee Research Association – much cheaper, essentially a plant list, written by experts, no photographs!

Read more articles about bumblebees.

See the radical new design of bumblebee nest box, designed to protect them from pests and to provide them with a suitable nesting environment which allows safe viewing, as does my newly designed solitary bee box. Great for schools.

For more information and to help save bumblebees join the Bumblebee Conservation Trust at Stirling University.

Thanks to

Queen feeding upon a willow in 2012  and more wildlife photos from  Roy & Marie with thanks!

Red tailed bumblebee feeding on muscari with thanks to Muromez.

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