Red-tailed Bumblebee (Bombus lapidarius) — ID Guide

Bombus lapidarius (Male) – Oisín Duffy
Bombus lapidarius (Male) – Oisín Duffy

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.

Red-tailed Bumblebee (B. lapidarius) showing its distinctive black body and red tail – Oisín Duffy
Red-tailed Bumblebee (B. lapidarius) showing its distinctive black body and red tail – Oisín Duffy

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).

Male B. lapidarius showing yellow tufts of hair on the face. The yellow band on the thorax also differs from the females, which are all black.
Male B. lapidarius showing yellow tufts of hair on the face. The yellow band on the thorax also differs from the females, which are all black.
Male B. lapidarius, yellow tufts on the face are visible along with yellow banding on thorax and red tail – Oisín Duffy
Male B. lapidarius, yellow tufts on the face are visible along with yellow banding on thorax and red tail – Oisín Duffy

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.

A rather sluggish and sandy B. lapidarius from a dune system – Oisín Duffy
A rather sluggish and sandy B. lapidarius from a dune system – Oisín Duffy
Oisín Duffy
About Oisín Duffy 23 Articles
Oisín Duffy is an ecologist and environmental educator with a special interest in the Flora of Ireland and Pollinators. He is the photographer and co-author of Biodiversity Ireland’s identification guide on “Trees and Shrubs”. He has a BA from NUIG and an MSc from NUIG and UL. Oisín is an active biological recorder, and current Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland (BSBI) Vice-county recorder for East Donegal (H34) and participates in a number of recording schemes run by the National Biodiversity Data Centre (NBDC), Bat Conservation Ireland (BCI) and others. In 2016, Oisín worked in conjunction with the National Biodiversity Data Centre to develop a plant monitoring scheme for Ireland. During the Summer of 2016, he toured Ireland giving workshops for the Irish Butterfly Monitoring Scheme. His most recent work has been as a photographer and author of the “Wildflowers in South Armagh”.

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