Carymoor Environmental Trust

About the Shrill Carder Bee


How to identify the Shrill Carder Bee

The Shrill Carder Bee Bombus sylvarum is one of the smaller members of the bumblebee family. It has a distinctive combination of markings, being predominantly grey-green, with a single black band across the thorax, and two dark bands on the abdomen. The tip of the abdomen is pale orange.

The combination of rapid flight and distinctive colouration make this species fairly easy to identify.Wildflowers on 'Andrew's Dragon'

Its name

Carder bees get their name from their habit of combing (or carding) fragments of grass stems and moss together to cover the cells containing their larvae. This species creates its nests on the surface or slightly below ground level, sometimes using old mice or vole nests. Colonies vary in size, and can contain up to 200 workers.

The Shrill Carder Bee is given its name as the queens fly very quickly and produce an audible high-pitched buzz. Although workers and males fly equally fast, they appear to be far less noisy. It is also known as the knapweed carder-bee due to its preference for nectaring on this species of wildflower.


The Shrill Carder Bee is widely distributed across Europe, east to the Ural Mountains and north to Great Britain, Ireland and southern Scandinavia. In the UK it was common until the early 20th century but its numbers have declined and it is now classified as 'very rare' by the Bumblebee Conservation Trust. This is largely a result of habitat loss and intensification of agriculture. In Britain it is now restricted to a few small areas in southern England and south Wales.

Shrill Carder Bees can be seen from about April to September. Only young queens survive the winter, emerging from hibernation in spring to establish new nests. By summer the nest will contain around 100 worker bees. Each nest requires about 10 square kilometres (6.2 square miles) of suitable habitat.


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