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The Hymenoptera is a large insect order that includes sawflies (in the sub-order Symphyta) and the bees, wasps and ants (in suborder Apocrita). Many groups of Hymenoptera are the domain of the specialists as they are often very difficult to identify, particularly the parasitic wasps, including the ichneumons. The aculeate Hymenopterans (the bees, true wasps and ants) are a more popular and accessible group.


The bumblebees of the genus Bombus found Shetland are the best-known group and are detailed below. 

Shetland Bumblebee (Moss Carder Bumblebee) Bombus muscorum agricolae

The most familiar bumblebee in Shetland. It is a subspecies of the Moss Carder Bumblebee, but is much brighter in colouration, with an orange thorax and yellow abdomen. The subspecies name commemorates the Roman navigator Agricola, who supposedly saw Shetland when he sailed around Britain and named it Ultima Thule. Similar, but less brightly-coloured bumblebees can be found in Orkney and the Outer Hebrides. Can be found in most habitats in Shetland, including gardens, croftland and moorland. May emerge in warm weather in April but more usually seen from May and often flies late into October. As with all Shetland bumblebees, queens may fly all summer, and workers, which can be very small, may also be very scarce in cool, damp summers. The only confusion species in Shetland is the very remote possibility that a worn individual could be mistaken for Great Yellow Bumblebee, which hasn't been seen for almost a century.

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Shetland Bumblebees ??, Mike Pennington, Shona Anderson
(Northern) White-tailed Bumblebee Bombus leucorum

The most frequent and widespread of the yellow and black bumblebees in Shetland, although possibly a relatively recent colonist - the earliest record dates from 1949 and it was still scarce in the 1970s. Tends to fly a little earlier than Shetland Bumblebee in spring but not quite as late in autumn. Easily separated from other yellow and black bumblebees by the single yellow stripe on the thorax, single yellow stripe on the abdomen and white tail. The economy of this species is complicated ...

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White-tailed Bumblebee Karl Graham
Garden Bumblebee Bombus hortorum

A scarce resident ....

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Garden Bumblebee Rebecca Nason 
Small Heath Bumblebee Bombus jonellus vogti

A scarce resident

Small Heath Bumblebee Karl Graham 
Buff-tailed Bumblebee  Bombus terrestris

First recorded ... A very early species to emerge and has even been seen in early March in Shetland. 

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Buff-tailed Bumblebee Rebcecca Nason 

Early Bumblebee  Bombus pratorum

First recorded in Lerwick in 2018 but also recorded from Bressay

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Early Bumblebee Rebecca Nason 

Written by Mike Pennington Updated 6th July 2020

with contributions from Rebecca Nason and Paul Harvey and incorporating information from Shetland Biological Records Centre

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