Facts about banded white-tailed bumblebees

Banded white-tailed bumblebees belong to a category that includes a number of similar-looking species. Here are some tips on how to tell the commonest ones apart.

Images: Hoverfly ©Ailura. All others ©Steven Falk

Buff-tailed bumblebee

Bombus terrestris

Yellow bands: Two, dark yellow in queens. Varying from dark to light in workers, usually with a buff tint.

Tail colour: Buff in queens. White and usually with a thin buff band at the base in males and workers.

Male face hairs: Black

Notes: One of the earliest bumblebees to emerge in February. Can overwinter in southern England and Wales.

Image: worker (left) & queen (right).

photo of male and female bombus terrestris

White-tailed bumblebee

Bombus lucorum agg.

Yellow bands: Two, bright lemon yellow.

Tail colour: Pure white

Male face hairs: Yellow

Other notes: Be especially careful not to confuse workers with worker buff tails, if in doubt, don’t record the species.

Image: male (left) & female (right).

photo of male and female bombus lucorum

Garden bumblebee

Bombus hortorum

Yellow bands: Three-Bright yellow

Tail colour: Extensive pure white

Male face hairs: Black. Forehead sometimes yellow.

Other notes: This bee has a particularly long face, which houses a long tongue. Prefers tubular flowers like deadnettle and foxglove.

photo of garden bumblebee, Bombus hortorum

Heath bumblebee

Bombus jonellus

Yellow bands: Three-yellow/buff

Tail colour: Extensive white. Occasionally buff in queens.

Male face hairs: Yellow

Other notes: Short, round face. Found in parks and gardens as well as heaths.

Heath bumblebee - male (Bombus jonellus)

Lookalikes

Cuckoo bumblebees

There are five species of ‘cuckoo bumblebees’ which are a similar colour and can be trickier to tell apart. They often lack a thick yellow band before the tail and may appear shinier with sparser hairs. These bees take over the nests of other bumblebees, making the workers rear their own young.

Cuckoo bumblebees

Hoverflies

A few species of hoverflies mimic these bumblebees. The most common are the bumblebee hoverfly Volucella bombylans and the narcissus bulb fly Merodon equestris. They have short antennae and larger eyes which sometimes meet in the middle. The bumblebee hoverfly has dark wing markings.

Hoverflies (Volucella bombylans)