Species: Vestal Cuckoo Bumblebee (Bombus vestalis)

Family: Bumble and Honey Bees (APIDAE)

Category: Insects (Other)

Location: Widespread

A. Insects (Other)

More extensive information on insects can be found in a separate blog post.

B. Bumble and Honey Bees (APIDAE)

The honey and bumble bees are social insects, whereas all other bees are solitary. Bumble Bees live in small colonies, often underground but they can be in dense terrestrial vegetation. Most of those seen in Spring and early Summer will be females, males appearing in late Summer. They have long antennae. There are 17-24 species of Bumble Bee depending on which entomologist is compiling the classification.
In former times, hives and bees were traditionally acquired by barter, or for gold or silver, for to exchange for cash was considered an unlucky transaction. It was considered bad luck to carry a hive across flowing water. Bees are said to be fussy about who manages them and will not produce honey for someone ill-behaved or of criminal tendencies, nor for someone quarrelsome or foul-mouthed. If bees suddenly quit a hive then death or ill-luck will visit the owner's house. If a bee owner dies the hives must be turned. If a funeral cortège passes, hives must be lifted until it has gone from view. For all significant family news the hives are tapped and the news whispered to the bees, or the bees may leave in disgust, or misfortune may strike. At weddings or birthdays a piece of cake is given to the bees; at funerals black crêpe is wrapped round the hives. A swarm of bees settling on a dead tree is a portent of death.

Note that various mason bees and mining bees have also been found in the Cemetery.

C. Vestal Cuckoo Bumblebee (Bombus vestalis)

Female Vestal Cuckoo Bumblebees are 20 - 24 millimetres in length, and males are smaller at 15 to 19 millimetres.

Cuckoo bumblebees in general have no pollen 'baskets' on their legs. This is because females they do not gather pollen directly from flowers, but feed from flowers until their ovaries are sufficiently developed to find an existing nest to invade. They will then infiltrate the host colony and usurp the nest by killing or subduing the host queen. She will then lay her own eggs, requiring host workers to feed her.

[When we talk about pollen 'baskets', these are corbicula, which are features of a bee's rear tibia. In humans, that's the calf part of the leg. For pollen-gathering bees, this corbicula is a shiny, concave part of the leg that is surrounded by hairs. Some of these hairs are long and stiff, and these hold pollen as the bee moves from flower to flower. Cuckoo bees, like this Vestal Cuckoo Bumblebee, lack this anatomical feature.]

The Vestal Cuckoo Bumblebee takes over the nests of Buff-tailed Bumblebees.

To cope with this behaviour, cuckoo bumblebees have thicker cuticles, enabling them to better withstand stinging by host bumblebees of an invaded colony. These bumblebees also have tinted wings, as can be seen in one of the photographs shown here.


Vestal Cuckoo Bumblebee

Despite appearances, this female Vestal Cuckoo Bumblebee is not gathering pollen. She has no need for that as she will take over the nests of Buff-tailed Bumblebees, using their food supplies. She is seen here on Knapweed, feeding for herself but not collecting pollen in baskets on her legs. (She has no such baskets.)

Vestal Cuckoo Bumblebee

The tinted wings shown in this photograph are a distinguishing feature of the Vestal Cuckoo Bumblebee.