Everyone who knows me calls me Tree. I like being Tree. Some may find it a bit odd, but that actually sits well with me, after all, I am a bit odd. Life would be very boring if everyone was the same, and I like to think that the world needs those lovable weirdos who will stop in a busy street to pick up a bumblebee from the floor, to deposit it safely on the nearest available flower.
I get very anxious if I may be late for work, resulting in me being rather early 99.9% of the time, however, one morning my boss at the time received an email from me advising him I might be a few minutes late. The reason? I had found a 'pavement-bee' and was returning home with it, as I knew there'd be flowers for it on my balcony. Sadly, in London, proximity to flowers is hit and miss. I can just imagine the boss rolling his eyes as he typed his response 'Do what you have to do to help your bee, Tree.' I did. The bee perked up after feeding on a flower for a few minutes, and I wasn't even late for work.
I was bee-lighted to learn that one of the 'Big 7' bumblebees was known as the 'tree bumblebee' or more properly, bombus hypnorum. They are relative newcomers to the UK bee scene, having been spotted here from 2001, but don't seem to have negatively affected the presence of other bumblebees. They are ingenious, building homes in places other bees wouldn't - you may well have heard of bees making their home in nest boxes put out for birds? That'll be bombus hypnorum. Is there a buzzing from the old mouse nest in your shed? Some bees spotted in the attic? Quite possibly our friends the tree bumblebee. If you had the choice of making something from scratch or moving in to a perfect location, you'd seriously consider the latter, surely?
From what I gather, you'd have to really be annoying to irk a bumblebee into acting aggressively towards you, and bombus hypnorum are no exception. They won't be fans of their nests being subjected to vibrations, or being poked about, but if you leave them alone, they can prove to be entrancing neighbours. I optimistically bought a small birdhouse, but I fear as no birds have yet nested in it, bombus hypnorum are unlikely to. In fact, they are one of the 'Big 7' species that I rarely see on my east-London balcony; I wonder whether perhaps some bees fly higher than others.
Pic credit: Dawn Aksoy
As I'll keep reminding any readers, I'm no expert (although this should be evident from my ramblings). My very basic ID tips for tree bumblebees are that they often have shaggy ginger jackets, like a carder bee, but tree-bees have a white tail. As is always the case with bumblebees, it pays to get a good look at their little fluffy bottom.
There's an interesting and infinitely more in-depth article on bombus hypnorum written by Clive Hill, on the Bumblebee Conservation Trust's website. It is worth a peek.