Wednesday, 29 March 2017

False alarm

It was a pleasure to be able to look at my bees at the weekend.  I don't think I have ever done a first inspection in March before but the weather was too good to miss the opportunity.  The bees were fine but I was puzzled when I found the body of this beast on the floor of one of the hives.

It is large and black and is obviously a bee or a wasp of some kind but I couldn't think what it was.  These photos show it in proportion to a queen honey bee.

Whatever it is, it must have got into the hive last autumn and have been there ever since.  It has no legs or wings and the antennae and mandibles have been chewed off by the bees as well.

I was struck by its black colour and its broad beam.  The colour of the fourth abdominal segment and the face aren't right for an Asian hornet but with all the alarm about them recently I checked it against the information on the BeeBase website.  The structure of the face isn't right for a hornet either.

At a loss to know what it was I sent the photos to the Great Britain Non-Native Species Secretariat, who forwarded them to the National Bee Unit.

And the answer?  It is a queen bumblebee.  I have to send in the specimen for analysis to confirm it but I'm sure they're right.  The bees have chewed off all its fur as well as the legs etc.  Of course I've never seen a bald bumblebee but it's obvious once you know.  The poor thing must have entered the hive last autumn, either attracted by the smell of honey or looking for somewhere to hibernate, and never got out again.

A lot of overwintering bumblebees don't survive but I'm pleased to have seen three species (buff-tailed, early and tree bumblebees) in the garden this week.  Let's hope I never see an Asian hornet.


  1. Well holy cats! That's a huge body...and without the fuzz and legs, mystifying. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Hi Christopher, This is an interesting story, thanks for posting it. I wonder if you would be happy for us to report it in Bee Craft magazine? I'm sure our readers would find it intresting. Thanks, Richard Rickitt, Deputy Editor, Bee Craft.