This week we’ll be looking at a highly distinctive and beautiful species of bumblebee. The red-tailed bumblebee (Bombus lapidarius) is a beautiful species which appears to be more abundant throughout the southern half of the country, when I’ve found it in the northern half of the country it is generally in coastal type habitats or species rich grassland (similar to the areas where I have found B. muscorum in Donegal). In Co. Waterford I have found it in a number of common habitats, grass and parklands, gardens, and also coastal areas.
The red-tailed bumblebee is easy to identify as the body is completely black with a red tail (sometimes this tail might appear orange and it generally fades throughout the year). The species is certainly not the usual bumblebee we think of, no other bands are present on the queens or females. However, the males of the species have a beautiful yellow band at the top of the thorax and also have yellow tufts of hair on the face (the bumblebee beard).
The only species which could be confused with the red-tailed bumblebee is the red-shanked bumblebee (B. ruderarius) but this species is relatively rare and has a restricted range in the country. The main difference between the two species is that the queens and workers of B. lapidarius have black hairs on their legs while B. ruderarius has red hairs. Next week we’ll be covering another red-tailed species, the Early Bumblebee (B. pratorum) which isn’t exactly a confusion species, due to size and appearance, but could still cause some bother when being seen for the first time.