Cheat guide to the Irish Bumblebees

I needed to master the bumblebee diversity of Ireland quickly after I arrived so that I could identify species in the field, so I made myself this little (simple) cheat guide. There are some great photographic guides on the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan website, so this is definitely no substitute for those, but instead meant to be a quick supplement for the field. They are somewhat inspired by the (much superior) North American Xerces guides for bumblebees: not perfect but a handy guide.

I designed this guide to resolve two problems with the bumblebee ID guides provided on the Biodiversity Ireland website:
1) They are missing three species: B. cryptarum, B. campestris, and B. barbutellus.
2) There is no hierarchy to the online guides, so you have to flip through them many times to see how many white-tailed, red-tailed, etc. bumblers there are. This makes them not very useful in the field. I want to glance at a bee and say, “Okay it has a white tail, what’s the next character I need to look at?”

I had a local expert check to make sure there are no glaring errors in this, so hopefully it’s pretty trustworthy…although he basically told me that cartoons are worthless and that one should only look at photos*, so take that into account.

Here’s the downloadable pdf**: Irish Bumblebee Cheat Guide

White-tailed bumblebees (11 species)


Red-tailed bumblebees (6 species)


Ginger bees (2 new species, plus 1 white-tailed included above)


Blonde bees and yellow-tailed bees (2 species)


*Harsh, but I still think cartoons have their place in simplifying complex traits into something easy to understand at a glance.
**I reserve the right to update this as I learn more/find mistakes.


18 thoughts on “Cheat guide to the Irish Bumblebees

  1. Bumble bees are very difficult to identify but I think this does help. The Bumblebee Conservation Trust provides cartoons of bumblebee colouring but I cannot understand those at all whereas yours are helpful. Amelia

  2. These are great. Is it okay to share on my blog plus the one I share with a friend? Also are you aware of the National Biodiversity Data Centre bumblebee ID swatches, available online from their website. Ideal for sticking in your pocket when out doing fieldwork. Also have number of other swatches. I always recommend them when I do workshops as I find them really useful.

    • Well, if it’s a female, she will lack the pollen baskets or scopa of lucorum, but lucorum and terrestris workers are indistinguishable even by microscope, unfortunately. The males of cryptarum and lucorum look identical I think

  3. Thank you this is a very clear explanation. I’m trying to identify a tiny bumblebee in my garden, it has a yellow band on it’s thorax and a slight orange/yellow bit on the tail/bum. I see several in the garden on the comfrey flowers everyday. I’d love to know what it is but cannot seem to identify it.

  4. Pingback: A DELIGHTFUL DISCOVERY – agoyvaerts

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