Saturday, 18 June 2011

Humble Bumbles

Just had a fantastic day with the South Yare Wildlife Group, learning how to identify common bumblebees as well as cuckoo bees.

Bee expert Nick Owens initially taught us how to identify 'the big six' bumblebees (red-tailed, garden, white-tailed, buff-tailed, early and common carder). With each having 3 different forms (queen, worker and male) this immediately gives 18 forms to recognise. Additionally, each has a corresponding 'cuckoo' species which parisitises them by taking over a nest (kleptoparasatism!)and benefiting from the host species workers' endeavours.  These therefore closely resemble one of those 6 common species (e.g. the Barbut's cuckoo-bee, Bombus barbutellus,  resembles the Garden bee, Bombus hororum) but can be discriminated from them by features such as the absence of pollen baskets (as the workers from the host species provide this function.) Throw in mimic hoverflies and moths and the novice bee-spotter can be quite overwhelmed!

Common spotted orchid
Barbut's cuckoo-bee
After an initial 'classroom' session, we headed out to Ducan's Marsh in Claxton to test our knowledge in the field. This SSSI has a staggering array of wildflowers (including orchids) which in turn sustain a fantastic diversity of insect and other life, including bees. Armed with our ID guides and with Nick around to give definitive identification, we were lucky enough to spot specimens of each of the big 6 species, plus the newly common tree bumblebee which is apparently spreading across the UK. We also saw 5 of the common cuckoo species, giving us a grand total of 12 species for the day, which is a pretty good haul for a single day.

It was a great introduction to these fascinating creatures, and certainly whetted my appetite to learn more about them, as well as to apply the new knowledge in our own backyard.

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