Facts about the great yellow bumblebee

GYBB queen illustration, courtesy of the Bumblebee Conservation Trust

Latin name

Bombus distinguendus

Gaelic name

Seillean mòr buidhe

How rare are they?

It’s one of the UK’s rarest bumblebees

Where are they found?

Now only found in the Scottish islands and the northern mainland coast of Scotland

What do they need to survive?

  • a suitable nest site
  • a continuous supply of flowers from June to September, especially kidney vetch, red clover and knapweed
  • a suitable place for queens to hibernate

GYBB queen illustration, courtesy of the Bumblebee Conservation Trust

The great yellow bumblebee

The great yellow bumblebee (GYBB) can be identified by its yellow or yellowish-brown colouring with a distinct band of black hairs between the wings. Its distribution in the UK has declined by 80% in the last century, making it one of the UK’s rarest bumblebees. Where once it lived throughout the UK, great yellow bumblebees are now only found in some islands of Scotland, and Caithness and Sutherland in northern mainland Scotland.

The principal causes of decline are the loss of flower-rich meadows and the intensification of farming and grazing practices. With its expanses of machair habitat, wildlife-friendly land management and lack of competition from non-native insects, the Isle of Tiree is home to one of the largest populations of great yellow bumblebees in the UK, making it an important refuge nationally. But even here, the bees appear to be struggling.

The Project: Flowering habitat and recording of great yellow bumblebees on Tiree

When queen great yellow bumblebees emerge from hibernation in June, they need to feed from high nectar-yielding flowers close to their hibernation site, so that they can quickly build up their energy for nest-building and collect pollen to provide for their developing young. The bees seem to favour patches of kidney vetch flowers in June, and require additional flowering plants to sustain them throughout the summer. In autumn 2016, RSPB Scotland launched a project that sought to involve Tiree residents and visitors in the species’ conservation by:

  • enhancing suitable forage for emerging queens through sowing locally sourced kidney vetch seeds
  • enhancing forage provision in summer through planting other suitable flowers
  • monitoring the numbers of bumblebees seen throughout the summer

The project made a successful start on these objectives in 2017, but for our efforts to have a measurable and long-lasting effect on the survival of the great yellow bumblebee population on Tiree and, therefore, in the UK, we need to continue working on these objectives and others until at least 2020. Your help would be of enormous value to the conservation of this endangered species and greatly appreciated.

Download Tiree’s great yellow bumblebee project – booklet about the project.

HOW TO GET INVOLVED

Watch out for great yellow bumblebees and report your sightings

Conduct bumblebee surveys

Grow great yellow bumblebee-friendly flowers in your garden and/or croft

Download Getting Involved – introduction to how you can help

Get in touch – email gybb@friendsoftiree.org.uk

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For further information:

Great yellow bumblebee, Tiree
GYBB worker on red clover, Paul Wood
Tiree Community Windfall Fund logo RSPB Scotland logo