Bilberry Bumblebee

Fast Facts

Latin name: Bombus monticola

Notable feature: A striking bumblebee with a reddish-orange tail that covers two thirds of the abdomen.

Conservation Status: Not Evaluated

Where in the UK: Found throughout the UK in upland areas, usually above 300 metres. It is largely absent from the South East of England.

Bilberry Bumblebee (Bombus monticola) © Charlotte Rankin

The Bilberry Bumblebee (Bombus monticola) is a small striking, native bumblebee with yellow bands on the thorax and a large red tail covering two thirds of the abdomen; males also have yellow facial hair.

A localised and declining species, found almost exclusively on moorland in association with stands of Bilberry.

The Bilberry Bumblebee is on the Scottish Biodiversity List & the European Red List of Bees (Least Concern) but there is no official status in Britain; the species is however showing a rapid decline and is particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

  • Size:  The Queen is biggest, while workers and males are smaller in size.  Queen: 15mm | Worker: 10mm | Male: 10mm
  • Life span: Annual life cycle; from egg to adult approximately a year for the queen.  Queens will be born in July and will live around a year before they die and the colony collapses. Workers will live for only a few months provisioning for the nest. Males are very short-lived, perhaps only a month or two and have the job of mating with the new queens.
  • Diet:  Strongly associated with bilberries (Vaccinium spp.) and Bell Heather (Erica cinerea), but will forage on sallow (Salix spp.), Bird’s-foot Trefoil (Lotus corniculatus), clovers (Trifolium spp.) and brambles (Rubus spp.) to plug nectar gaps.
  • Reproduction: Queens emerge in April and will locate a nest site, usually an old rodent burrow, and lay her first set of eggs beginning the colony. Colonies are small compared to other bumblebee species and will produce around 50 workers. Queens and males emerge around July and can be on the wing as late as October. Once mated the new queens will hibernate underground before starting the process again the following year.
  • When to see: Adults on the wing from April (queens), workers from May onwards, males and new queens from July to early October
  • Population Trend: Declining
  • Threats:  Loss and degradation of habitat.  Climate change (which affects food resources, emergence times of bees and flowers, and many other things), agricultural intensification and overgrazing (but correct grazing intensity can stimulate flowering), heather beetle plagues, and Phytophthora fungus attacking bilberry.
  • Fun Fact:  The Bilberry Bumblebee is commonly known as the Blaeberry Bumblebee in Scotland.  They’re also sometimes known as Mountain Bumblebees, as they’re usually found in mountain or upland habitats.

How you can help: 

Buglife is working to increase awareness of invertebrates and the Bilberry Bumblebee through specific projects including Get the Marches Buzzing and Pollinators Along the Tweed, and campaigns but we need your help!

Join a recording scheme and log your finds – send any records or sightings to the Bumblebee Conservation Trust, local recording projects/groups such as Bumblebees on the Mynd or download the iRecord app and get recording!

Do remember that we rely on donations to continue our work.  If you have searched, found and learnt about our incredible invertebrates on our website, please do consider Making a DonationBecoming a Member or maybe even making a purchase in our shop.  For more ideas on how to support our work find out how to Get Involved.  Thank you 🕷