Researchers ‘buzzing’ after new bumblebee species discovered in Ireland

29 Sep 2017

The tree bumblebee. Image: thatmacroguy/Shutterstock

As fears over the future of the bumblebee continue, Ireland can celebrate some good news with the arrival of a new species to the island.

As many conservations have pointed out before, a large proportion of the world’s food supply will be under threat if ‘the great bee die-off’ continues unabated.

As a UN report highlighted last year, two out of five species of invertebrate pollinators (bees, wasps, butterflies etc) are headed for extinction.

However, there is some good news on this front for Ireland as the National Biodiversity Data Centre has revealed that we have a new bumblebee species.

Spotted by wildlife enthusiast Michael O’Donnell in the very urban surroundings of St Stephen’s Green in Dublin, the species is known as the tree bumblebee (Bombus hypnorum).

Spotted by chance

The tree bumblebee is a common and widespread species in continental Europe. It first arrived in southern England in 2001 and has rapidly spread across Britain at a rate of 50km per year.

Now it appears to have finally made the long journey across the Irish Sea, bringing Ireland’s total number of bumblebee species to 21.

O’Donnell said that he came across the important find during a walk on his lunch break through the park.

Tree bumblebee

The first recorded Irish tree bumblebee. Image: Michael O’Donnell

“I’ve had an interest in insects all my life and I’m involved with monitoring schemes in the National Biodiversity Data Centre and MothsIreland, so I’m always paying attention to what’s flying about,” he said.

“So, when I saw an unfamiliar bumblebee, I knew straight away it was something different to the bees I’m used to seeing and suspected it was a tree bumblebee. I was aware of the significance of this sighting and the importance of it being confirmed and properly documented with the [centre].”

The National Biodiversity Data Centre is now calling on other wildlife enthusiasts to keep an eye out for the species that is identifiable by its black head, fuzzy ginger-brown thorax, black abdomen and white tail.

A first-class pollinator

Despite Ireland having almost 100 species of bee in total, 30pc of them are believed to be under threat, with our tendency to clear wildflowers in parks and gardens being a major contributor to their demise.

“The arrival of the tree bumblebee heralds a very positive start to the release of our latest guideline document to encourage bee-friendly farming,” said Dr Úna Fitzpatrick from the National Biodiversity Data Centre.

“It’s a very effective pollinator, and will be particularly important to the horticultural industry as it’s known to be a first-class pollinator of tree-fruit crops.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic