Ginger Bees

Within the UK, only three bee species are fully ginger, the Common carder bee (Bombus pascuorum) being one of them.

The other two are the moss carder bee, (Bombus muscorum), and the brown-banded carder bee, (Bombus humilis).

Unlike the other two species, the common carder bee has black hairs along the abdomen, and can reach lengths of up to 1.3 cm.

B. pascuorum is a fluffy brown-orange bumblebee, with a grey or black stripe on its belly. It also sometimes displays darker bands on its abdomen. Males (drones), workers, and queens have similar appearances, however, females tend to have creamy-white sides to the thorax. Drones are usually yellower, with more obvious hair tufts on the face.

The common carder bee is one of the UK’s most common and widespread bumblebees, which emerges in early spring, and can be seen feeding on flowers until November. They can be found anywhere where there are flowers to feed on, like in gardens, farmland, woodland, hedgerows, and heaths.

B. pascuorum often nests in cavities, like old mouse runs, in bird’s nests, or in moss mats on lawns. Here, they gather dried grass and moss that they comb or ‘card’ to cover their hives (hence their name, ‘carder bees’).

Common carder bees are social insects, with hives potentially containing up to 200 workers. During the spring, the queen emerges from hibernation, and starts the colony by laying a few eggs. These eggs hatch into workers, who then tend to the nest and future young. Drones hatch later, and mate with new females, who are potential to-be queens. By the Autumn, both the drones and old queen dies, however, the new queens hibernate to start another colony by the next spring. The colony lasts about 7 months, which is one of the longest developing cycles of all bumblebees.

The eggs are often laid in containers, which are built by the queen and also contain collected pollen, which will be eaten by the young grubs. These grubs hatch after a few days, and go through a cycle of eating pollen, pupating, and hatching for 1-2 weeks, after which they emerge as bees. Most of the time, these bees emerge as workers, it is usually after August where queens and drones hatch.

B. pascuorum are a member of the ‘long-tongued bees’, and feed on flowers with long, tubular florets, like lavender, heather, and clover. When their proboscis (tongue) is too short, common carder bees have learnt to nibble a small hole into the calyx (sepal, lower ‘petals’), and then collect the nectar. This method, however, does not fertilise the plant.