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THE COMMON CARDER BEE
Recently while we’ve been gardening at the Rec we’ve seen a lot of the solitary Hairy Footed Flower bees, and featured a number of photos on our websites. I also wrote about this species in one of the previous Nature Notes a couple of years ago.
This time, it’s the turn of the Common Carder bee (Bombus pascuorom), which was spotted by one of our gardeners, Natalia, whilst we were at the Rec on Sunday (30th April). This is one of the UK’s 24 species of bumblebee and was seen feeding on one of the many dandelions at the Rec when Natalia photographed it.
Being a bumblebee (rather than a solitary bee), the Common Carder nests communally, tending to favour sites above ground such as tussocky grass or mossy patches. This does make their nests and contents more vulnerable to damage, but the bees do their best to conceal them by using bristles on their legs to comb plant materials into a protective mat. This is like the process used in the textile industry, called carding, which combs out fibres to align them, before spinning and weaving. Historically teasel heads were often used for this purpose.
It is this long-established practice that has given this species one of earliest common names in use.
The Common Carder has a distinctive ginger thorax, with a paler abdomen, that has black stripes. Although colours do vary slightly and tend to fade with the wear and tear of their busy lives (Don’t we just know the problem!!) It can be difficult to distinguish between queen, worker and male bees, but being fairly early in the season, the one featured here is likely to be a queen bee. She will search out a suitable nest site and create a colony of between 60 to 200 individuals: workers, and later in the season, males and potential new queens.
Common Carder bees can still be seen flying as late as October or November, but ultimately, as with other bumblebees, the colony will die out, and only the newly mated queens will hibernate overwinter to start the cycle again the following spring.
The Common carder bee is, as its name suggests, not a threatened species, partly because of its catholic tastes in habitats and flowers. It is found in fields, parks, gardens, woodland, heaths and pretty much anywhere it finds a suitable food source. It is one of the species of bee with a longer tongue and is able to feed on tubular shaped flowers which would be inaccessible to others. It is a real generalist, but no less lovely, or valuable, for that!
You may have this attractive little bee nesting somewhere on your patch. Surely all the more reason to leave the mower in the shed and join in Plantlife’s ‘No Mow May’. Better still, also leave patches of longer grass throughout the year, and be sure to plant lots of bee friendly flowers.
For further information see:
The Bumblebee Conservation Trust at bumblebeeconservation.org
Buglife at buglife.org.uk
Plantlife at plantlife.org.uk
Words by Denise Long
Photographs by Natalia Trujillo Rendon