Bumblebee guide: why they’re fluffy, where they nest, and how to help them

Bumblebee expert Richard Comont tells you everything you need to know about these social bees.

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Why are bumblebees fat and hairy?

To fly, they need an internal temperature of 30°C – being hairy helps to retain heat produced by the wing muscles. As the bees brush past flowers their hairs also pick up pollen, which they comb out and collect.

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Do bumblebees live in colonies?

Yes, but there are just 50–400 workers per nest, compared with up to 50,000 for a honeybee hive, and most nests last only a few months in spring and summer.

Where do bumblebees nest?

It varies by species: some use old rodent burrows; others build bundles of dry grass in the bottom of grassy tussocks. The tree bumblebee (its bright white ‘tail’ is a giveaway) likes to use bird nestboxes.

Which species of bumblebee will I spot in early spring?

The big, bumbly queens of February to April now stay in their nests, so you’ll mostly see female workers with pollen on their hind legs. But the early bumblebee has a short colony lifespan, so may already be producing males – look for small, fluffy, yellow bees with red tails, yellow moustaches and hairy legs.

How can I help bumblebees?

Plant flowers such as red clover, lavender, snapdragons, runner beans, salvia, borage, cosmos, lungwort and comfrey. And go on a monthly bumblebee ramble, sending records to the BeeWalk survey.


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Richard Comont works for Bumblebee Conservation Trust.