Common Carder Bee: Bee I.D.

In the last few years, I’ve become fascinated by the bees and other insects that visit my garden. Sometimes I like to just sit and watch as they go about their business among the flowers. It feels very relaxing and deeply peaceful.

There are several different species of bee that use the garden. Honeybees come here frequently. There’s usually a good number of buff-tailed bumblebees too, and just occasionally, a red-tailed bumblebee. And there’s the bumblebee pictured above – the common carder bee (Bombus pascuorum).

Common carder bee
Common carder bee on Caryopteris x clandonensis

I’d noticed these bees back in spring, visiting the white deadnettle and other early flowers. They moved about too much for me to get a really good look at them, or a clear photograph that showed their markings. Recently, I saw a couple of them enjoying the freshly-opened flowers of a sedum on a sunny afternoon. It made a good opportunity to photograph them.

Having photographs of the bees made it easier to identify them by comparing them to images on websites about bees. Even then, it can be very hard to be sure about identification, because many bees look very similar.

Honeybee on Sedum
For comparison: honeybee on sedum

To make it easier to see the differences between the commonest bees in my garden, I’ve posted a couple of comparison photos. Above is the honeybee. (The western or European honeybee, Apis mellifera.)

You can see that the honeybee’s colouration is quite like that of the common carder bee. But the carder is much hairier and a stronger ginger colour. (The common carder is also a bit bigger than the honeybee.)

If you look at the tails of the two bees, you’ll notice that the tail of the common carder has hairy stripes in black and white. While the honeybee also has a stripey look to its tail, they are quite different. Here the black areas of the tail look smooth and slightly shiny, with just very short and sparse pale-coloured hairs.

Bumblebee on a blue scabious flower.
For comparison (2): Buff-tailed bumblebee (I think!)

The other comparison (above) is the very common buff-tailed bumblebee. (Which can be distinguished from the white-tailed bumblebee by that very narrow orangey stripe at the top of its tail.) It looks quite different from the common carder bee, having a mostly black thorax with an orangey-yellow stripe just below the head, and another on the abdomen, just below the waist. (Mostly hidden here by the wings.)

One of my reasons for wanting to know which bees use my garden is so that I can try to make sure I have a range of flowers to suit them.

The common carder bees have been busy at the caryopteris flowers, even though the shrub has almost finished flowering for the year. Like a lot of other bees, they’re keen on the flowers of sedums at the moment, as well as the last of the catnip flowers. (When there’s not a cat sleeping in it!)

Now I must go and read up on what other flowers they like and what sorts of habitats suit them. I’m hoping for lots more of them next year!

Common Carder Bee
Common Carder Bee – it has a hairy face!

Out for the Big Butterfly Count

Recently I wrote that there had been few butterflies in the garden this summer. And I had seen no Peacock butterflies. Happily, some have now appeared, as you can see from the top picture (where it shares the buddleia flower with a Red Admiral.)

There aren’t as many butterflies as in last year’s really warm summer, but it’s great to see some. A little bit of sunshine and the scent of the buddleias has brought them into the garden to feast and sun themselves – conveniently for the ‘Big Butterfly Count’, which finishes this weekend.

Small Tortoiseshell butterfly
Small Tortoiseshell

The appearance of this Small Tortoiseshell butterfly was well-timed for my second go at the butterfly count. It’s the only one I’ve seen so far this year. In fact, I’ve only seen it a few times in the garden. I was delighted that I had my camera ready, and even happier that it didn’t fly away. (Most of the pictures here have been cropped from much bigger images because I couldn’t get close without disturbing the butterfly.)

Below is a butterfly that I’ve not noticed in the garden before. It’s a Gatekeeper and there were two of them, often in the same area. (The dark, band-like markings on the forewings of this one show that it’s a male.) These are common in hedgerows, grassland and around the edges of wooded areas, so they may have come from the woodlands across the road from us. There are plenty of trees and shrubs in the gardens around here and wilder areas with long grass too, so there could soon be more of them.

Gatekeeper butterfly
Male Gatekeeper butterfly

After I had photographed the Gatekeeper, I thought to myself that it would be good if I could find a Comma to photograph too. They are common butterflies and sure enough, a couple of them turned up. In fact the first one surprised me by landing on the grass at my feet and then deciding to perch on my leg for a while. So I got a rather dodgy photograph of that one and then managed to get a better photograph of the Comma below.

The butterfly that we see most often here is the Red Admiral. There’s usually several of these around on a sunny day and they’re pretty reliable when it comes to being around for the Big Butterfly Count. Afterwards they entertained me by chasing each other around the garden. It was amazing to see them spinning wildly through the air in the last of the evening sunshine.

Comma butterfly
Comma butterfly

While I was taking part in the butterfly count, I noticed that many of the butterflies came to feed on the buddleia plant that you see in the photographs here. This was good, because I hadn’t seen many on it before and I wondered if they preferred the paler purple varieties. This one is ‘Royal Red’. Here it looks more of a reddish purple but the colour changes a lot with the light and sometimes it’s a really lovely deep colour with more red in it. I’m glad to see that it does attract butterflies. I have several cuttings of it that are growing well, so I’ll plant them out in a sunny and sheltered area. Maybe they’ll bring in more butterflies for next year’s count.

There was a surprise while doing my first butterfly count for this year – a big hedgehog snoozing in the undergrowth! I haven’t seen one in this garden for a few years, so it’s good to know that they are around. It was worth having to restart that count just for the glimpse of him or her. (And don’t tell my cats, but I left out a bit of their food, which it ate pretty quickly.)

Red Admiral butterfly
Red Admiral on Buddleja davidii ‘Royal Red’