We spent a late afternoon/early evening walking around one of our favorite places, Gibraltar Point Nature Reserve near Skegness.

Bumblebee at Gibraltar Point

Bumblebee at Gibraltar Point -by Marie Law-

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A minute walk from the beach is a stretch of salt marsh with a carpet of lilac colored sea lavender.

Sea Lavender

Sea Lavender -by Marie Law-

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Note: Bonus sky lark in sea lavender photograph :-)

Bumblebee on Sea Lavender

Bumblebee on Sea Lavender -by Marie Law-

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We saw a butterfly fly past, it was either a painted lady or a comma butterfly and as we’d recently been filmed for a BBC Four documentary about the painted lady butterfly migration we went on a butterfly hunt.

Painted Lady Butterflies and Smartphone

Painted Lady Butterflies and Smartphone -by Marie Law-

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We were soon distracted by a gorgeous bumblebee feeding on the sea lavender and she cooperated for a quick video/photo shoot :-)

Bumblebee and Smartphone

Bumblebee and Smartphone -by Marie Law-

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She (reasonably confident she’s a she, queen bumblebees are huge) has three bands: orange, orange and an orange/white band which after looking at pictures of the UKs 24 bumblebee species identifies her from the species bombus terrestris (also called the buff-tailed bumblebee or large earth bumblebee), these are really common in Europe.

I was confident she’s a bombus terrestris, that was until I read about cuckoo bumblebees and noticed our bumblebee had no pollen sacks (they collect pollen on their back legs to feed the bee larvae)!

Cuckoo Bumblebees

Cuckoo bumblebees don’t produce worker bees and can’t collect pollen to feed their young larvae, their back legs lack a shiny pollen basket area: no way to raise young on their own. The cuckoo bumblebees don’t build their own nests, the queen finds and usurps a bumblebee nest either by subduing the queen/workers (via strong pheromones) or by killing the queen: think Game of Thrones with bees rather than dragons :-)

The nest then raises the cuckoo bumblebees larvae which are all cuckoo queens and males (no workers), they are fed/tended by the worker bees from the usurped queen!

Who knew :-)

After zooming into one of Marie’s awesome bumblebee photos you can see the back legs are quite shiny and lack hairs, that’s where the pollen would stick (the pollen basket). If it’s dull and hairy it’s probably a cuckoo bumblebee.

Bumblebee Pollen Basket

Bumblebee Pollen Basket -by Marie Law-

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Our bumblebee presumably lacked pollen on her pollen basket because the flowers it’s collected nectar from: sea lavender, not exactly heavy pollen producers :-)

Going to bee (pun intended) on the look out for cuckoo bumblebees now.

David Law