UK bee populations thrive at Botanic Garden

While the Midlands has seen a general decline in bumblebee species numbers over the last few decades – mostly due to the loss of habitat – bee populations in our Botanic Garden are thriving.

In the national context, our Botanic Garden is home to almost half of the total 24 bumblebee species native to Britain. Of the eleven species of bumblebee that frequent the Botanic Garden, seven are social bumblebees and four are cuckoo-bumbles.

Like the cuckoo bird, cuckoo bees lay their eggs in the nests of the host species.

Some cuckoo-bumbles are host-specific, targeting only one species of bumblebee, whilst others are less fussy and target two or three host species.

Cuckoo bumbles differ in many ways from social bumbles. For example, they do not collect pollen and have no pollen baskets on their hind legs. They are also less hairy and the wings are often a darker colour.

There are also differences in breeding biology - there is no caste system of queen, workers and drones (males) in cuckoo bumble colonies.

Cuckoo-bumbles usually emerge from hibernation quite late in spring, about a month or so after the social bumblebee hosts have founded their colonies and produced their first workers.

Bumblebee survey and identification workshops have been held within the Botanic Garden over the last few months, shedding light on these fascinating garden friends.