Most bumblebee activity has now ceased for the year, with just the new queens waiting in hibernation, ready to start colonies in spring. However, in milder regions and urban areas, you may notice bumblebees feeding on winter-flowering plants.
Over the past few years, some bumblebee species, most frequently the Buff-tailed Bumblebee have been observed foraging throughout winter, particularly on garden shrubs such as Oregon grape (Mahonia spp.), heather (Erica carnea) and Japanese quince (Chaenomeles spp.). This isn’t just a case of queens waking up to feed – workers from active colonies have been recorded gathering the pollen and nectar required to raise young. Until recently, it was somewhat uncertain whether these colonies were successful in producing new queens and males, but this has now been confirmed. It is likely that winter-active bumblebee colonies are a response to climate change, combined with the availability of winter-flowering plants (often those introduced by gardeners), but more research is needed.
If you notice winter-active bumblebees, please use our app to carry out a survey and help us understand which plants are supporting these insects. Additionally, the Bees, Wasps and Ants Recording Society (BWARS) are researching the phenomenon and would also like to hear from you; find out more here.