Bumblebee mites

A Queen Buff-tailed Bumblebee with some Mites hitching a lift by Graham Watkeys

A queen buff-tailed bumblebee with some mites hitching a lift by Graham Watkeys

It’s the time of year when bee royalty can be seen hunting for the palaces of their dreams; this often means buzzing low down along hedgerows and in undergrowth looking for abandoned mouse holes or other cavities that can become the home of the next generation of bumbles.

As the mornings can still be quite cold, bees can often be seen sitting in the sun trying to warm up, this is quite normal and is often a good chance to have a good close look. This is when you might notice some mites clinging on to the bees fur.

With the disease spreading Varroa mites infecting honey bees this may cause some concern but the mites that are found on bumblebees are different and generally completely harmless.

These mites are detritivores that live in bumblebee nests, eating old wax and general bee generated rubbish; when the nests are abandoned over winter this causes a problem for the mites, so they hitch a ride on queen bumblebees to get to the next active nest.

They may look quite scary when they are seen seemingly infesting queen bumblebees but they don’t spread disease, parasitise or damage the bee in any way other than to add weight. The weight can cause an issue in extreme cases when there are so many mites that the bee can’t cope, but they can be brushed off with a small paintbrush.