Six things you didn't know about bumblebees

Discover something new about these smart, efficient, foraging machines. 

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Opening spread bumblebees feature.

Discover something new about these smart, efficient, foraging machines. 

1 Bumblebees are ‘high-revving’ insects – their metabolic rate is about 75 per cent higher than that of hummingbirds. A human-sized bumblebee would burn the energy in a Mars bar in as little as 30 seconds.

2 During foraging trips the thorax of a bumblebee, which houses its hard-working flight muscles, can be 15°C warmer than its abdomen.

3 Queens are rarely seen in summer. Old queens may venture above ground to feed, and new ones will emerge to mate, but they soon return to the safety of the nest.

4 Each year, the UK’s commercial tomato-growers use two million bumblebees to help pollinate their crops.

5 Phylogenetic studies suggest that bumblebees evolved in the Himalaya. Relatively few bumblebee species live in warm climates, maybe because they would overheat there.

6 Male bumblebees paint a trail of pheromones 200–300m long on twigs and foliage to attract mates.

 

How to help bumblebees

Our bumblebees are suffering from pesticides and a dearth of flowers – here’s how you can make a difference.

 

  • Plant any of the following: chives, sage, Salvia, thyme, borage, comfrey, lungwort, lavender, Aquilegia, flowering currant, foxglove, snapdragon, lupin, hollyhock, scabious, catmint.

 

  • Don’t buy a bumblebee nestbox – they rarely work, providing a home only for woodlice and earwigs. Instead, create a dark, dry cavity the size of a partly deflated football under a slab or plank, fill with kapok or an old, mossy bird’s nest, and ensure there is a crack or two for the bees to squeeze inside.

 

  • Don’t use insecticides in your garden – there really is no need, and you risk poisoning a myriad beneficial creatures, including bumblebees.

 

Find out more about bumblebees. 

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