On 23 February I saw my first queen bumblebee of 2020 during a couple of hours of unusually sunny weather. She was in a real hurry, tearing past me making one hell of a din. Bumblebees are frequently seen in the early spring flying in zig-zag patterns at ground level around the hedgerows looking for good nesting sites, so my guess is that this bumblebee had just come out of hibernation and was desperately hungry and looking for a quick nectar fix – they need to boost their energy levels after their long sleep. She was very big and fat (a complement if you are a bumblebee!) with yellow and black stripes, my guess is that she was a buff-tail. Some interesting facts about bumblebees:
- only the new queen bumblebees survive from the summer
- each bumblebee colony produces a number of new queens, the old queen dies at the end of the summer along with the female worker bees and the males
- the new queen bumblebees mate in the summer and go into hibernation with the sperm stored in their bodies
- when the new queen bumblebee finds a suitable nest, her ovaries develop and she lays her eggs which she fertilises with the sperm she stored as they leave her body. So, the new colony begins to grow
- queen bumblebees coming out of hibernation are looking for early spring flowers
As well as the daffodils, snowdrops, hellebores and crocuses, our native wildflowers are very important for insects like bumblebees arriving early in the spring. Look out for lesser celandine amongst the hedgerows.