Mountain bumblebee (or bilberry bumblebee)

This is a relatively small bumblebee with a distinctive orange behind making up two-thirds of its abdomen. It has two lemon yellow stripes on its thorax.  Sexes are similar in colour, but males have yellow facial hair. They are highly adapted to live at altitude and are declining throughout their range, possibly through climate change.

Queens start to be active in early April looking for nest sites. The nests are usually seen in the vegetation around tall heather and blaeberry plants and rarely extend below the surface. The nests are quite small with no more than 100 workers in the colony. Feeding on blaeberry flowers in spring and bell heather in the late summer. The queens cease activity and hibernate by the end of October.

These are very specialised mountain species of flower feeders, seeking blaeberry flowers for nectar and pollen. Mountain bumblebees visit sallow for nectar and will visit birds’ foot trefoils, white clover and raspberry during the middle of he summer.

All bumblebees are very important pollinator species as they are able to collect food and pollinate flowers on dull cold days when honeybees and other flying insects are inactive and dormant. And in the case of B. monticola smith this can mean they are the most significant insect pollinators at altitude.