Sunday, 1 April 2012

A Cryptic Bumblebee

Bombus cryptarum queen.  Bumblebee.  Hayes Common, 23 March 2012.
Bombus cryptarum queen.  Bumblebee.  Hayes Common, 23 March 2012.
A cryptic species is one which can't be told apart from another species by casual examination. Upon discovery, what was thought to be one species is then split by various tricksy criteria into two or more. That happened to the bumblebee "species" Bombus lucorum, which is common in the UK.

It is now thought by some to be actually perhaps three species, which mostly can't be separated by sight.  But queens of this one, Bombus cryptarum, can supposedly be identified visually in this way: a small black mark extending up into their yellow collar from the base of the wing. This is all still quite contentious, and you will note the caution of my language, but the experts would tentatively put this specimen down as B. cryptarum pending evidence to the contrary.

It wasn't me who spotted this one, but a bumblebee expert on the iSpot site.  I had thought it was B. lucorum.  I photographed it because I thought it was looking for a nesting site, but actually it seems to be feeding on something from the ground.  This is serendipity.

For comparison, here's a similar queen without the mark, so it's the original Bombus lucorum (we hope!) You can also see that it has a couple of passengers, ticks buried in its shoulder fur.  They are hitching a lift to the nest, where they eat debris.

Bombus lucorum queen.  Bumblebee.  Hayes Common, 23 March 2012.
Bombus lucorum queen on gorse.  Bumblebee.  Hayes Common, 23 March 2012.

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