SWT: Bumblebees buzz in to herald arrival of spring

Paul Edwards/SWT ANL-150420-141133001
Paul Edwards/SWT ANL-150420-141133001
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There is something very special about a sunny spring morning. There’s no mistaking the fact that Nature is well and truly wide awake!

Birds franticly trying to impress prospective mates, blossom-smothered blackthorn, amorous frogs vying for the optimum position in my pond and the unmistakable bumbling hum of a bumblebee somehow warms the ears.

The rising temperatures have recently woken the bumblebee queen from her subterranean chamber. She had been hibernating, alone and underground living off her reserves all winter. Now emerged, she is replenishing her energy levels, sucking up nectar using her long unfurled tongue. And now she can begin her search for a nest in wobbling erratic flight. She is seeking out a suitable hole in the ground, a patch of tussocky grass, perhaps she’ll choose an old bird box an upturned flowerpot or find a cozy spot under the garden shed.

Once the nest is selected she’ll begin to assemble a nectar store. Bumblebees are perfectly adapted for the collection of pollen and nectar. The powdery yellow grains adhere to their hairy bodies. The pollen is then combed from their body using their legs, glooped together with regurgitated nectar and packed into specially adapted pollen baskets on the back legs – looking not unlike vivid yellow legwarmers!

Once the queen has gathered her pollen packed treasure she begins to secrete wax from her body and combines the two components in which to lay her first brood of eggs.

She tends her eggs, closely regulating their temperature by shivering and waggling her body over them until her grub-like larvae emerge. For the next two weeks she feeds her fattening brood on a diet of pollen and nectar that she gathers from a variety of bee friendly flowers. When the larvae are good and plump they will spin a cocoon and emerge as female adult worker bees. The queen now resides entirely in her nest being fed, cleaned and tended by her growing family. Nice work if you can get it!

The connection between food source and suitable nesting opportunities is inextricably linked. A network of Living Gardens forms a vital habitat for wildlife, and a few simple actions can make all the difference. You can help by ensuring that you have planted suitable nectar sources throughout the year as well as creating suitable nesting opportunities. Leave an area of lawn to form tussocks for nesting and overwintering.

Sunny banks and walls are important for subterranean nesting bumblebees. You could try half burying an upturned terracotta pot, just ensure that the hole remains accessible. Think nectar banks! You could create a beautiful spring wildflower meadow brimming with cowslips and nodding fritillaries. Develop a patchwork effect in a more manicured lawn but planting native plugs in clumps, or get really serious and try scattering seed laden hay cuttings from a local meadow.

Suffolk Wildlife Trust’s Lackford Lakes visitor centre near Bury is hosting events for the whole family:

April 29 (7.30-9.30pm) Look and listen for nightingales. Book on 01284 728706

May 1 (5.30-7.30am) Dawn Chorus Walk. Book on 01284 728706

May 2-4 (11am-4pm) Wild for the Weekend – wildlife guides and family activities all weekend. More info on 01284 728706

For more, visit www.suffolkwildlifetrust.org or call 01473 890089

-- Angela Jones is a Suffolk Wildlife Trust community adviser