Large bumblebees are about now, buzzing loudly through the garden or along hedgerows, often very low down as if they are searching for something.

That’s precisely what they are doing, because these big bees are founding queens.

The tree bumblebee is our newest colonist, but since the first sighting in 2000, it has spread rapidly.

They are the sole survivors of last summer’s colonies, who have spent the winter in a dry nook and are now on the hunt for a place to build their nests.

The most sought-after ‘des res’ for many bumblebees is an old moss-lined mouse-nest at the base of a hedge or a tussock of grass, but they will also use holes in the ground.

The tree bumblebee (Bombus hypnorum) is unusual because it often nests well above the ground especially in tree-holes or bird nest-boxes.

Once a queen has found a well-insulated nest-site she secretes wax to make a honey pot, into which she regurgitates the nectar she has gathered from early spring flowers.

This will be a useful larder for her in bad weather when she can’t forage.

Identifying bumblebees can be fairly easy, but they do vary and male bumblebees often have different markings from workers and queens.

She then prepares a ‘loaf’ of pollen on which she lays her first precious eggs, brooding them with care, often buzzing her wings to create heat to keep them warm.

When they hatch, the grubs feed on the pollen loaf and after a few weeks, they pupate in silken cocoons.

They emerge as the first generation of workers and spend their time building cells and gathering nectar and pollen.

As they rear more workers the colony will grow throughout the summer.

Plan bee

The queen, who mated in the previous autumn, uses the sperm she stored to fertilise the eggs she will produce throughout the rest of her life.

At first she lays eggs which will become workers, but towards midsummer, she produces the next generation of queens and then males, after which she dies and the colony begins to dwindle.

There are a number of common bumblebees that we can see regularly in our gardens including the white-tailed bumblebee (Bombus lucorum), the buff-tailed bumblebee (Bombus terrestris) the common carder bumblebee (Bombus pascuorum) and the red-tailed bumblebee (Bombus lapidarius).

The tree bumblebee is our newest colonist, but since the first was seen in 2000, it has spread rapidly.

Identifying bumblebees can be fairly easy, but they do vary and male bumblebees often have different markings from workers and queens.

There are also several species of cuckoo bumblebees to consider.

Bumblebee conservation has a comprehensive guide to identifying common species of bumblebee.

Take part in the Big Spring Watch – we need your help to record how fast spring is spreading and how our wildlife is coping.

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Thank you to Springwatch Flickr group contributors Thalia Brown, Margaret Holland, Emma Seward and Steve Balcombe for the use of their images.