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Bilberry Bumblebee

Bombus monticola

Flight season: Late March into October.

Flowers visited: In the valley, these bees prefer bilberry, gorse and sallows when flowering in the spring, wild raspberry and clovers will attract large numbers as will heathers later in the year.

Nesting preferences: Usually the queen will nest in small rodent burrows surrounded by a small family of roughly 50 bees.


Status: Fairly widespread in the North and North West of the UK but becomes decidedly scarce further South and East.

Parasites: The cuckoo bumblebee Bombus sylvestris.


Similar species: The large amount of red on this pretty bee’s abdomen will distinguish it from all other UK bees save for the incredibly rare apple bumblebee, Bombus pomorum, which has not been recorded in the UK since 1864. Males of the red tailed bumblebee (Bombus lapidarius) can look similar but the red on their abdomens only begins from the fourth segment (known as a tergite) whereas it begins on the second tergite in Bombus monticola. This difference is quite obvious in the field.


Description: Certainly one of the most pretty of our bumblebee contingent. With a collar and midriff stripe of the most vivid yellow, separated by the deepest black before a long, russet to crimson tail covers most of her abdomen. The queens in our valley emerged on the 26th of March this year from their burrows in the cairn on top of Y Foel. By late April active colonies had become established and were covering the bilberry bushes on the tops, happily collecting pollen and nectar. By June the bilberry had finished flowering and I found the highest densities feeding on wild raspberry alongside their cuckoos Bombus sylvestris.


Where to see them: Strongholds in the valley seem to be anywhere along the tops from Chirk castle right up to the Berwyns and I have found them pretty much whenever I leave the valley’s base. However, they do not seem to be constricted to the tops, I found them in the village of Bronygarth feeding on clover so it is not impossible for them to turn up in your garden!

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