Naturalist Michael O'Donnell works in Dublin near St Stephen's Green. He has a particular interest in, and knowledge of, insects, especially moths and bumblebees. During his lunch breaks from work he regularly walks through the wonderful and very popular amenity that is St Stephen's Green, checking the flower borders for bumblebees, butterflies and other insects.
On one such recent lunch-time walk through the Green, he saw an unfamiliar bumblebee. He knew straight away it was something different to the bees he is used to seeing and suspected it was a Tree Bumblebee a species new to Ireland.
Aware of the significance of his sighting and the importance of it being confirmed and properly documented with the National Biodiversity Data Centre he took the photograph above and had it determined that the unusual insect was indeed a Tree Bumblebee, the latest addition to our fauna.
The National Biodiversity Data Centre reports that the Tree Bumblebee is a common and widespread species in mainland Europe. In 2001 it crossed the English Channel from France, colonised southern England and started to spread northwards. Its rate of spread was monitored and was calculated to be about 50km per year.
It has now made the jump across the Irish Sea from Britain. Readers are encouraged to keep an eye out this latest addition to our fauna and to report sightings to the National Biodiversity Data Centre to help staff working there map the insects' progress in Ireland.
The arrival of the Tree Bumblebee here is welcomed by the horticultural industry as it is a very effective pollinator and is known to be a first-class pollinator of tree-fruit crops like apples. It has a black head, a fuzzy ginger-brown thorax, a black abdomen and a white tail. Sightings of them are most welcome and should be reported to http://records.biodiversityireland.ie/.
Most bumblebee species make their nests at ground level, either in long grass or in old abandoned rodent nests. The Tree Bumblebee is different in that it nests in holes in trees and empty bird boxes. Its rapid spread northwards throughout Britain and now into Ireland is believed to be due to its unique approach to nesting.
We have 98 wild bee species in Ireland; 21 of which are bumblebees. Unfortunately, all is not well with these important pollinators of wild plants as no fewer than 30% of our bumblebees are presently red-listed as threatened with extinction.