Bumblebees can be very difficult to identify at first, although they are often relatively straightforward!
There are 24 species in Britain, but with queens looking different to males (and sometimes to workers), as well as different colour forms for most species, there can be a bewildering array of different-looking bees. When, later in the year, sun-bleached and worn bees are prevalent, identification can be very tricky indeed!
The first thing to be aware of is that only seven or eight bumblebee species are both widespread and abundant: these species are likely to make up around 95-99% of your bumblebee sightings. There are a further six species (the cuckoo bumblebees) which are parasitic in the nests of these common species and so are largely similarly widespread, but at a much lower abundance. The remaining 11 species tend to be localised or habitat-specific, and are correspondingly rarer, though they can be abundant where present.
Generally, though, even when the rare species are present, the common species will still be more abundant and must be ruled out first. Consequently getting to grips with the Big Eight (Common carder, Red-tailed, Early, Tree, Garden, Heath, Buff-tailed and White-tailed bumblebees) is the major step – our ID pages can help!
Bumblebees have a tendency to hide their distinguishing features by curling up – generally views of the face, tail, stripes and legs are all useful (see our guide to photographing bees for more help here).
For more information about how to identify bumblebees click HERE
For help identifying bumblebees there is a downloadable app – which you can find HERE