Spotlight on... Brown-banded carder bee

Brown-banded carder bee, male © Steven Falk

What is a Brown-banded carder bee?

The brown-banded carder bee (Bombus humilis) is a bumblebee species which emerges relatively late compared to our other species and queens can be seen from mid-May onwards, nest prospecting. It generally nests on the surface of the ground and has a small colony size. It has a very short foraging range and relies on very high-quality habitats close to the nest.

Males, workers and queens are similar in appearance, ginger-brown all over with no clearly-delineated tail, often with a darker brown band on the second abdominal segment. It has no black hairs on the abdomen but does have a thin scattering of black hairs in amongst the ginger around and above the wing bases. The brown abdominal band that give the species its English name is variable in appearance but is not a reliable feature to split the species.

Of the 3 species of ginger brown carder bumblebees in Oxfordshire and Berkshire, Bombus humilis is the rarest nationally. It has declined greatly in the UK due to habitat loss and is a Section 41 species.

Where are Brown-banded carder bees?

Brown-banded carder bees strongest populations are found in South and Southwest of England in flower-rich grasslands where this long tongued species shows a strong preference for Kidney Vetch (Anthyllis vulneraria), Red Clover (Trifolium pratense), Betony (Stachys officinalis), Bird’s-foot Trefoil (Lotus corniculatus), Knapweed (Centaurea nigra) and Wild Thyme (Thymus polytrichus). In the summer of 2018 it was observed in Cothill Fen.

TVERC has only 3 records in our database! Two of these records are from the 1960s and 1970s and another from a garden in Cookham in 2009! However, our database only includes information which people have provided us (and we have collected), so a lack of records doesn’t mean that brown-banded carder bees aren’t present in the area. All it means is that no-one has told TVERC they’ve spotted them… yet!

Have you seen any Brown-banded carder bees?

If you spot any wildlife when you’re out and about, share your records and photos with TVERC. By letting TVERC know what you have seen you will help protect and improve your local environment by increasing the quality and quantity of data we hold. It is essential that any brown-banded carder bee records are supported by photos to accurately identify this species.

Absence records are also very useful, so also let us know if you’ve been out and haven’t seen anything!

Your records can inform a variety of exciting biodiversity projects and help people make informed decisions about how to develop and manage land sustainably. We are a ‘not for profit’ organisation so rely on valuable help from skilled volunteers to improve our database.

Identification help

This beautiful bumblebee is a great one to observe because it seems very confident and doesn’t zoom off when you get too close, like other species!

This carder bee crib sheet by Steven Falk should help you to accurately identify this species!

Find out more…

Check out the links below for more information on Brown-banded Carder Bees!

Where should we direct our spotlight next?

If you are a recorder, a local recording group or just have an interest in a species, send us your suggestion for a species, along with some facts and a photo (if possible) to