Last week I wrote two installments about the Queens that had started visiting our nest and this in an update about them.
To recap, last week we spotted a boy exploring around the lodge; and the next day a 'foreign' Queen (i.e. not from our nest) started visiting our nest. Shortly after another queen arrived too. We didn't know if they were looking to mate or hibernate; we didn't know where they had come from or where they were going. But it was fascinating to watch.
Well, another week on and there is more to report.
The first excitement came five days later when both Queens stayed overnight in the nest. This was a mystery - that they had both abandoned their usual nightspot and, indeed, that they were prepared to cohabit. Perhaps they were orginally queens from our nest back in August? Maybe that makes a difference?
Over the next few nights one or other or both stayed in the nest overnight - it seemed like one of them at least had adopted it as a new home. I was still trying to get my head round this and understand what was going, not knowing that another shock was in store.
That shock was to discover that one of the Queens was starting to bring pollen back to the nest.
How could that even be possible? For the queen to be collecting pollen would imply she is brooding and collecting the first pollen needed for her pupae. Could that really be true? If it is, it would mean that a third successive colony is developing in our nest in the same year, which seems quite remarkable to me. Sadly, of course, there is no real time left for this colony to succeed before the winter and indeed, there is very little pollen available. And the bumbles are having to work hard to find it.
We have to bear in mind that we are now half-way through October. The bumblebees' normal active lifecycle is quoted as being March to September. Of course, one might expect some seasonal and local variation, with activity extending perhaps before and after those date; but that would be the ongoing/existing activity, not a whole new lifecycle beginning.
Perhaps that's not what's happening; maybe something else is going on. Possible theories:
- It's not a queen, just a large worker and for some reason she's adopted our nest
- She is a queen, but isn't brooding, but as above, for some reason has reverted to basic pollen collecting behaviour, adopting the existing nest
- She's not a queen from another nest, but one of our 5 or 6 that was born in August, returned for some reason
I just don't know and it's something I need to investigate more to find out if this type of behaviour has been observed before, or whether this is something unique we are seeing.
Either way, I was starting to doubt myself and doubt the fact this was a queen. I was confident that the two large "visitor" bees that turned up 10 days ago were queens - they were both sufficiently larger than our remaining brood and had all the right features and proportions. I thought maybe somewhere along the way I'd lost track, maybe a larger bee had joined the colony, or even hatched from within ours, and maybe that was what I was now calling our "pollen collecting queen".
So, today, I did a sanity check - comparing an image of the original Queen with the current pollen-collecting Queen:
It's clear from this image that I'm looking at the same bumblebee, or at the very least, the same size bee. I'm therefore happier with my assertion that she is a Queen.
It turns out she is not the only Queen in the vicinity. Indeed, there is the second bufftail queen that is co-habiting with her in the nest.
Furthermore, the lavender at the front of our house, which is having a second wave at the moment, was busy with honey bees today, as well as 3 Common Carders (at least two of them were boys) and a Queen Redtail (see video). I also saw a Bufftail Queen checking it out too. I guess they were all making the most of the sunshine.
As I write, both queens have stayed in the nest again overnight. At this stage we dare not look inside to see what's happening a) because it's so much cooler now, the nest would lose valuable temperature and b) we really don't want to do anything to disrupt their behaviour, it being so unusual.
So, we wait for the next thrilling installment.