More bumblebee observations….

Bombus Hypnorum -

Bombus Hypnorum – feeding on late raspberry flowers

Following on from my recent post about the Bumblebees in my garden I have continued to enjoy watching the bees tumbling all over the raspberry flowers, but now that these seem to be mainly set as fruit and there is slightly less activity going on around the patch.

However the bees haven’t left the garden but seem to have turned their attention to the leaves on my cherry tree. There seems to be a frenzy of bee activity, mainly in the early evening, so I have been having a closer look (and a few photos of course) as this behaviour all seems very strange as there are not actually any flowers here for them to feed on…

Bombus Vestalis -

Bombus Vestalis – entering the ‘rolled’ leaves on the cherry tree

It appears that as we have now effectively reached what beekeepers refer to as the ‘June gap’, this is the time between the end of the spring flowers and the arrival of the summer flowers, when there is less natural forage for bees of any kind to feed on. In an absence of sweet nectar from flowers the bees appear to have taken to ‘milking’ the sugary secretion from the aphids that have ‘attacked’ the underside of the youngest leaves at the end of the branches on my cherry tree.

According to the Bumblebee Conservation Trust (BCT) this behaviour appears to be becoming increasingly common.

“The secretions offer a substitute for nectar, but do not contain the protein the insects need to stay healthy. Bumblebees can only get their protein from pollen, which they feed to their growing young, so it is essential for a healthy population.”

The bumblebees’ behaviour of feeding on secretions from aphids could be a further sign of the problems facing the insects.

There have been warnings that bumblebee and wild bee populations around the UK are experiencing “catastrophic declines”.

Bombus Vestalis - feeding on aphids in young cherry tree leaves

Bombus Vestalis – Proboscis elongated and feeding on the aphids on the underside of cherry leaves

Possibly of even greater concern  is that many trees are sprayed with pesticides to kill off the aphids and this will have a knock-on effect of killing the bumblebees at a time when they are already considered to be under threat and in decline across the UK.

There were recent reports of mass wipeouts with 25,000 bees killed in the US following the application of a pesticide to control aphids and this could be happening all over the world – a very sad thought indeed….

Bombus Vestalis -

Bombus Vestalis feeding on sugary secretions – you can see a few aphids on the outside of the leave but the inside is completely coated in them

It’s not all doom and gloom though as the UK government have finally appeared to have woken up the problems with our wild pollinators (after recently trying to block a 2-year EU ban on the use of three of the most damaging neonicotinoids) and are launching an ‘urgent’ review and plans to  to introduce a national pollinator strategy. I hope this is not just political point scoring and some very urgent action is taken before we have lost these essential and beautiful insects and experience the knock on effects on both our economy and food production.

I hope you have enjoyed reading the blog,  feel free to contact me with comments, suggestions or general feedback, click on the right column to subscribe and receive updates when I next have the time between chasing the bees to write again.

I can also be found at @danieljmarsh on twitter or British Beekeepers page on Facebook.


N.B. clicking on the images opens a higher resolution image in a new window.


6 responses to this post.

  1. Interesting post. I noticed today that a lot of plants growing wild locally were covered with aphids, with no signs of any ladybirds feeding on them. I used to see loads of British ladybirds, now they’re all Harlequins and I’m surprised if I see a British one. Perhaps all this spraying for aphids wouldn’t be necessary if populations of their native predators were healthy.

    Magnificent photo of Bombus hypnorum by the way.


    • Hi Emily, thanks for your comments! I have seen more harlequins this year, although my 3 1/2 year old found cream spot last week. It does illustrate that you can’t knock out part of the ecosystem without having catastrophic effects elsewhere. The imported species are definitely displacing the native in to many areas. I’m just hoping we don’t start to get sightings of the Asian hornet as its likely to arrive in Kent first….


  2. Posted by jen3972 on July 6, 2013 at 5:18 am

    I noticed bumblebees all over my aphid-ridden cherry tree, and like you, deduced that they were exploiting the honeydew. However, I have a large field of oil seed rape behind me, so for my bumblebees it can’t really be because of lack of forage? Where I am in Sussex we have masses of bramble and spring rape so perhaps it’s a quick and easy sugar fix rather than the June Gap. Fantastic pictures and great blog by the way 🙂


  3. Hi Jen, thanks for feedback and always good to hear from other beekeepers. Just out of interest do you see bumblebees on the rape seed? I know honeybees will feed relentlessly on it but have never had a chance to sit and watch to see which of the other bees or pollinators are attracted, some plants are quite pollinator specific. I can’t imagine that the aphids have a higher sugar content than rape but like you say maybe its easy to collect.

    My bees are near Groombridge, so also in east Sussex, but we have not had rape growing that close this year.


  4. Posted by jen3972 on July 6, 2013 at 7:09 am

    Yes – the whole field is humming with both bumbles and honeybees, as well as hoverflies. When I take the dog up the footpath through it, I come back with various stripy hitchhikers on my jumper! I noticed a few years ago that my bees have a little stripe down their face when they’ve been foraging on rape but they don’t bring in much pollen, whereas the bumblebees I see in the field have huge packets of it


  5. What lovely pictures, I really enjoyed this post.


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