The Red tailed Bumble Bee is one of the six commonly found species of Bee in the UK. It is widespread throughout England but less common in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. It is a large black bee with an orange red tail, the females are black apart from this but the males have an additional yellow band on their head. The Red tails emerge from hibernation about a month later than similar species such as the white tailed and the buff tailed bees.
It is a common sight in gardens and is not aggressive but will fly around the heads of people who near their nest. The nests are normally under stones or slabs with the drones and normally contain a maximum of 50 insects. The old queen dies each year with the onset of winter with only the new Queen hibernating over the winter, under ground or under moss to keep warm. In spring she will make wax pots to lay the first batch of eggs in and these will hatch into infertile female workers/ drones about three weeks later. Once the first batch is active they will take over collection of food and building new cells in the nest for young while the queen focuses solely on egg laying. Male bees are not hatched until late summer (from eggs laid by the workers as the queen's ability to suppress reproduction declines) and as autumn approaches they will leave the nest never to return, as when they leave so do any new queens and once mating has occurred the males die. Unlike other social insects the worker bees are capable of laying eggs but the Queen suppresses the ability to breed through aggression and pheromone chemical suppressants.
Food and Predators
The larvae feed on both pollen and nectar for carbohydrate and protein; the adults will seek food from a wide variety of plants including Foxglove, Gorse, Broom, Monks Hood, and Thistles. In moorland areas adults have been observed eating aphids as other food sources decline but this is not an ideal replacement food. Predators are normally limited to creatures that dig up the nests such as badgers, wood mice and yellow necked mice.
As with all types of British bumble bees the Red tailed is suffering a decline in numbers as countryside habitats become less common. You can help by encouraging Bees into your garden by creating nest boxes and mowing your lawn less in the summer if it has clover on as the Bees love clover. Advice on encouraging bees into your garden can be found the National trust web site and a helpful free leaflet is also available as a download from Natural England.