On the hunt for Bombus monticola -the heathland specialist

Durham Wildlife Trust Heathland Heartlands, News, Uncategorized

The Heathland Heartland volunteers spent a beautiful sunny day carrying out a their first bumblebee transects. We completed two transects around Quaking Houses and Chapman’s Well, the first along the old wagon way on the outskirts of the SSSI and the second up the north facing slope towards Morrow’s Edge.

The aim of the survey was to gain an overall view of the distribution of  Bombus sp. in the area and hunt for the specialist bumblebees  -the heath and blaeberry.

Blaeberry Bumblebee – Bombus monicola  prefers high altitude, upland heaths but is also happy on lowland heath at a lower altitude. It needs access to grasslands and loves areas rich in bilberry it’s favorite pollen source. It has declined due to a combination of habitat loss which has caused a reduction  in the flowering plants it needs to complete its life-cycle, in this case, Bilberry and legumes such as Clover and Bird’s-Foot Trefoil. Climate change could also have played a large part it’s decline.

Heath Bumblebee – Bombus jonellus has a love of heathers so frequents our heathland areas gathering  nectar with its short tongue from the small heather flowers. It can also be seen in gardens and can be mistaken for the garden bumblebee due to its similar colours.

Part of our habitats management of the lowland heath has been to increase the bilberry and heather cover and encourage bird’s foot trefoil.

The first transect had a wide variety of flowering plants with varying sizes and shapes of florescence. This attracted an array of bee species:

White Tailed : 10 workers    Red Tailed: 13 workers   Early: 2 males   Buff Tailed: 1 Queen, 4 workers

Common Carder: 3 workers, 3 unconfirmed caste               Cuckoo :Bombus sylvestris : 5 workers

Red Tailed - Bombus lapidarius

Red Tailed – Bombus lapidarius (Ali Carpenter)

Common Carder - Bombus pascuorum (Ali Carpenter)

Common Carder – Bombus pascuorum (Ali Carpenter)








The cuckoo bee Bombus sylvestris was of particular interest as it attacks both the heath and blaeberry bumblebees and lays its eggs in their nests – the hunt was on!

Our second transect took us to a heather and bilberry rich area. The heather was just coming into flower and there were plenty of legumes to provide pollen and nectar sources.

White tailed:2 workers, 1 queen   Red tailed: 11 workers       Garden: 3 workers, 1 queen, 1 male

Early: 1 worker               Common Carder: 2 workers, 2 queen, 1 male      Cuckoos: several cuckoos  of the white, buff and garden bees

So ………….unfortunately no heath or bilberry bumblebees. Our plan is to go back and repeat the transect within the heathland area when the heather is in full bloom and to repeat yearly after that.

Four- banded longhorn Leptura quadrifasciata (Ali Carpenter)

Four- banded longhorn Leptura quadrifasciata (Ali Carpenter)


Joe , Stewy and Carole with their first catch

Joe , Stewy and Carole with their first catch