Volunteers get a real buzz from bee discovery

A Bilberry bumblebee in the grass
A Bilberry bumblebee in the grass
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An elusive bee made an appearance at White Coppice to the delight of naturalists who were beginning to doubt its existence at the beauty spot.

More than a dozen nature lovers went in search of the bilberry bumblebee with Lancashire Wildlife Trust Plan Bee Project Officer Ben Hargreaves on Friday.

Ben said: “The aim of the survey was to search the White Coppice area for Bombus monticola, AKA bilberry bumblebee. Both workers and males have been recorded from the general area but there was only one record of a queen.”

The group set off from White Coppice towards Anglezarke, but made their way back to the cricket ground for lunch having seen four species of bee – carder, white-tailed, buff-tailed and tree
bumblebee.

Ben said: “Then we found a bilberry bumblebee close to the car park! It was feeding on a willow tree. And it was definitely a queen, which meant the trip was a success.”

Later the team found another willow tree, on the path to Brinscall, where a couple of the distinctive bees were spotted.

Ben said: “It was quite a day. We had seen quite a few bees, but the bilberries were proving to be elusive, then we were watching them for more than an hour. They are very busy bees but we actually saw one land in the grass which is quite rare.”

The bilberry bumble is beautifully marked with stripes going from head to tail – yellow, black, yellow and then orange.

Its distinctive orangey-red abdomen makes it stand out from similar
bumblebees.

Ben said: “White-tailed and buff-tailed bumblebees look like they have been dipped in paint, bilberry bumbles look more like they have been dunked.”

“The species has undergone substantial decline – particularly in lowland areas – and therefore any viable populations are important both for studying continuing threats to the species and habitat requirements.

“The survey was also useful to raise awareness of White Coppice and Heapey as an important area for bees
generally.

“We also have records of heath bumblebee, tormentil mining-bee and two species of bumblebee cuckoos.”

Ben said it is important to promote bee recording throughout the county including people’s gardens.

If you spot an unusual bee or insect send a picture to info@lancswt.org.uk or the Lancashire Wildlife Trust Face book and Twitter (@lancswidlife) pages. Read more about Plan Bee at www.lancswt.org.uk/plan-bee.

To get more information on the amazing variety of insects in the UK look at the BWARS: Bees Wasps & Ants Recording Society website at www.bwars.com.