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Sunday, 5 June 2016

An interesting thing about bumblebees

I was at Rainham Marshes again today looking for insects and taking some pictures of them.
When I was looking back at my images this evening, I noticed that one of them showed some interesting behaviour that I'd read about but never seen.

This is a male Early Bumblebee (Bombus pratorum) feeding on nectar from a Tufted Vetch flower.
Look at where his tongue goes into the flower. He's cut a hole in the base, and is sucking the nectar straight from there. This is called "nectar robbing", and it sort of "cheats" the flower, because the bee gets the nectar without pollinating the flower.
The Early Bumblebee is one of our species that has a short tongue. This means that with a long narrow flower like this, it can't reach the nectar by the "normal" route through the open end of the flower.
Other common species with short tongues include the Buff-tailed and White-tailed Bumblebees. These also will rob nectar from flowers. Many other insects do it too, as well as some birds (though not in Britain, as far as I know).

At the other end of the scale in our bumblebees are our Carder Bee species and the Garden Bumblebee. These all have long tongues and so can feed in the normal ways from things like Tufted Vetch.

I also saw this Shrill Carder Bee (Bombus sylvarum) queen today - a rare bumblebee that is reasonably easy to find at Rainham Marshes. This picture isn't great for ID (though you can see the black band across the thorax), but shows nicely how she can feed on Tufted Vetch through the open end of the flower.

Aren't insects endlessly fascinating!