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Red-tailed Bumblebee Bombus lapidarius

The Red-tailed Bumblebee is a common visitor in many gardens. In our garden however it is very rare. The first one wasn't seen until August 2002. This is a big species (about the same size as the Earth Bumblebee and the Garden Bumblebee). In the vicinity of the nest the Red-tailed Bumblebee is more agressive than most other species of bumblebee and it is quite happy to sting any intruder. This species is entirely black, except for the red tail. It is not easily mixed up with other species, for the few look-a-likes around are quite rare, especially in common gardens and smaller usually. The queen does have a small whitish yellow band on the front end of the thorax at times. Males, workers and queens do not differ much from one another, which is rather unbique among bumblebees. The hoverfly Volucella bombylans, var. bombylans looks like this bumblebee very much, as is shown in the bottom picture! Scientifically this bumblebee used to be called Pyrobombus lapidarius.

The Red-tailed Bumblebee makes its appearance quite late, usually in April. In unusually warm springs it may have appeared a bit earlier: by the second half of March. The colony remains rather small and rarely ever contains over 300 individuals. Normally the nest is made underground in some old micenest, but occasionally nests are found in openings in walls, birds nests or nesting boxes. This too is a common species all over Europe, including the British Isles. The animal easily adepts itself to man made changes in the natural environment. It will adopt even small beds of flowers in the middle of big cities and welcomes parks, gardens, and the fringes of woodlands, even though it will never live within forests. The Red-tailed Bumblebee visits well over 200 species of flowers, including many exotic garden species. Yet, it is not used in agriculture because of its unpleasant character and eagerness to sting.

The Red-tailed Bumblebee is also known as Stone Bumblebee or Large Red Bumblebee. Scientifically it was known as Pyrobombus lapidarius in the past.