The red-tailed bumblebee is one of our most common bumblebees, often seen in gardens. Queens and workers are black with a strongly red tail however males look very different. They instead have a yellow collar and face, along with a more orangey tail. The queens emerge in early spring, followed by the workers and then the males. They can be seen flying until late autumn in a range of habitats across the UK.
Bumblebee nests can be parasitised by cuckoo bees, who, like the birds, lay their eggs in cells provisioned by the host bee to be raised as her own. Sometimes the cuckoo bee will go as far as killing the queen and using pheromones to trick the workers of the colony into thinking she is one of them. She then rears her young with all the pollen provided by the worker bees. For this reason, cuckoo bees do not have a pollen basket on their hind leg or have queens or workers, only males and females. The cuckoo bee that parasities Bombus lapidarius is the very similar red-tailed cuckoo bee (Bombus rupestris).
To learn more about our pollinators, come and take part in our Pollinator Festival, August 24-26 2019.