February Bee of the Month – Bombus Subterraneus – The Short-haired Bumblebee

b subterraneus2012The short haired bumblebee was once common across Southern England, but populations declined through the latter half of last century, and the bee was declared extinct in the UK in 2000. Efforts are being made to reintroduce this bee to the UK, so here’s a quick guide to Bombus subterraneus.

The short-haired bumblebee is a large species with long tongues and, as their name suggests, short hair on their bodies. Queens and workers have black and yellow bodies, while males are predominantly yellow in body and face. They nest underground and rely on a diverse grassland habitat to survive. It thought that the decline of this environment led to the disappearance of the species in this country. Recently, farmers and other landowners in Kent have been encouraged to create flower-rich habitat to support these and other bees.

If you want to see them you could try Southern Sweden, or closer to home, the RSPB nature reserve at Dungeness in Kent, where 49 Swedish queen bees have recently been released. The queens will have already mated prior to their collection in Sweden so should be fertile and ready to produce their own colonies.

After collecting pollen and nectar the queens will establish nests, and raise worker bees, which also forage for food. Another batch of eggs will develop into male bees and new queens, to build a strong and healthy population of short-haired bumblebees.