Common carder bumblebee (Bombus pascuorum)
Widespread and fairly abundant (2).
The common carder bumblebee is the only common bumblebee to have a completely ginger thorax. Although the abdomen also tends to be gingery, it is more variable in colour, and can be greyish or red (2). The coat tends to be rather scruffy-looking and is short (1). This species has a fairly long tongue and males can be distinguished from females as they have longer antennae(1). Carder bumblebees earn this name from their habit of combing material together (carding) to create a covering for the cells containing the larvae(2). The scientific name pascuorum is derived from the Latin pascuum and means of the pastures (2).
This species is widespread in Britain (2). Two forms occur in Britain; the ranges of these forms overlap in the north of England and northern Wales and they interbreed in these areas (1). This species is also found in mainland Europe (1).
Found in grassy habitats and gardens (1).
This species creates its nests on the surface, in old mouse runs through grass, in tangles of vegetation or just under the surface of the soil (1) (2). Colonies vary in size, and can contain up to 200 workers (2). Only young queens survive the winter; they establish new nests in spring, laying the first eggs into pots of wax. After hatching, the white larvae are fed on honey and pollen by the queen. When they are fully-grown, the larvae cease to feed and develop into pupae after spinning a protective silk cocoon around themselves. During the pupal stage the larvae undergo complex changes, and develop into adult workers (2).
When the first set of workers are fully developed they take over the foraging duties and care of the brood, and the queen simply lays eggs (1). The workers feed the larvae on pollen and nectar which they gather on groups of hairs on the back legs, known as ‘pollen baskets’(1). They gather nectar from long tube-like flowers, with white dead-nettle a firm favourite (2). When the colony reaches its peak, males and new queens are produced (2). Males develop from unfertilised eggs and appear in summer, flying around in search of new queens with which to mate (3). Shortly after mating, the male dies and the newly mated queen searches for a place to hibernate. The colony, together with the old queen, gradually dies, though colonies of this species are the longest-lived of British bees, persisting until October (1) (2). The newly mated queens emerge the following spring, to establish new colonies (4).
Although this species is not currently threatened in Britain, many British bumblebee species have undergone a worrying decline, largely as a result of changes in agricultural practices leading to a loss of open habitats and important food plants (5). Agricultural changes, such as the widespread switch from hay meadows to silage production have greatly affected bumblebees throughout Britain. Silage is made from grass treated with fertilisers and cut regularly through the year; grasses treated in this way are poor in flowers needed by bees (6). The common carder bumblebee is at risk from mowing and ploughing due to its surface-nesting habits (2).
Concern over the decline of our bumblebee populations has caused steps to be taken. Research into the habitat requirements and ecology of Britain’s native bumblebees is on-going. English Nature has produced a leaflet called “Help Save The Bumblebee Get More Buzz from Your Garden”, which includes advice on how to make your garden attractive to bumblebees (7).
For details of how you can help bumblebees, see English Nature’s leaflet ‘Help save the bumblebee
Get More Buzz from Your Garden’ available on-line at
For more on bumblebees see: Prys-Jones, O.E. & Corbet, S. A (1991). Bumblebees. Naturalists’ Handbooks 6. Richmond Publishing Co. Ltd.
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- Abdomen: in arthropods (crustaceans, insects and arachnids) the abdomen is the hind region of the body, which is usually segmented to a degree (but not visibly in most spiders). In crustacea (e.g. crabs) some of the limbs attach to the abdomen; in insects the limbs are attached to the thorax (the part of the body nearest to the head) and not the abdomen. In vertebrates the abdomen is the part of the body that contains the internal organs (except the heart and lungs).
- Antennae: pair of sensory structures on the head of invertebrates.
- Hibernate: hibernation is a winter survival strategy characteristic of some mammals in which an animal’s metabolic rate slows down and a state of deep sleep is attained. Whilst hibernating, animals survive on stored reserves of fat that they have accumulated in summer. In insects, the correct term for hibernation is ‘diapause’, a temporary pause in development and growth. Any stage of the lifecycle (eggs, larvae, pupae or adults) may enter diapause, which is typically associated with winter.
- Larvae: stage in an animal’s lifecycle after it hatches from the egg. Larvae are typically very different in appearance to adults; they are able to feed and move around but usually are unable to reproduce.
- Pupae / Pupal: stage in an insect’s development when huge changes occur, which reorganise the larval form into the adult form. In butterflies the pupa is also called a chrysalis.
- Thorax: part of the body located near the head in animals. In insects, the three segments between the head and the abdomen, each of which has a pair of legs.
- National Biodiversity Network Species Dictionary (September 2003): http://www.nhm.ac.uk/nbn/
- Prys-Jones, O. E. and Corbet, S. A. (1991) Bumblebees. Naturalists Handbooks 6, Richmond Publishing Co. Ltd., Slough.
- Zahradnik, J. & Severa, F. (1999) A field guide in colour to bees and wasps. 2nd Edition. Blitz Editions, Leicester.
- Free, J.B & Butler, C. G (1959) The New Naturalist: Bumblebees. Collins, London.
- NHM Distribution and decline of British bumblebees (March 2004): http://www.nhm.ac.uk/entomology/bombus/decline.html
- Lynn Dicks (2004) Getting the Buzz. BBC Wildlife Magazine April 2004.
- English Nature (2003) Help save the bumblebee- get more buzz from your garden (October 2003): http://www.english-nature.org.uk/news/news_photo/savegardenbumblesweb.pdf