These relatively large stout insects are between 12 and 30 mm in length.
The thorax and abdomen are normally covered in dense hairs varying in colour from yellow to orange interspersed amongst black, often in clear stripes.
Two pairs of wings are present, often appearing very small in relation to the body size.
The bumblebees form annual colonies started by queens which have over wintered. Each queen will build a nest beneath the ground comprising wax cells in amongst grassy debris.
The bumblebees often use old mouse holes as places to build their nests. Moss, grass, abandoned birds nests, barns and garden sheds may also be utilised.
The young bee larvae are reared in the cells of the nests, being fed on pollen and nectar supplied by the queen.
The colony then expands with the workers of successive generations being considerably larger as the food supply improves during the summer months.
Males are produced in the late summer and the fertilised queens over winter. Each nest contains about 100-200 individuals.
Bumblebees are large imposing insects and as such often cause alarm when they are encountered. They are in fact docile and relatively harmless and although they do possess a sting they rarely use it, only when greatly provoked.
After honey bees, bumblebees are the second most important pollinators. They are particularly important in pollinating trumpet-shaped flowers for which honey bees have too short a proboscis.
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