Field Cuckoo Bumblebee

Bombus campestris

Last updated: February 2, 2023
Verified by: AZ Animals Staff
© HWall/Shutterstock.com

Field cuckoo bumblebees lay their eggs in established nests of other species


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Field Cuckoo Bumblebee Scientific Classification

Kingdom
Animalia
Phylum
Arthropoda
Class
Insecta
Order
Hymenoptera
Family
Apidae
Genus
Bombus
Scientific Name
Bombus campestris

Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.

Field Cuckoo Bumblebee Conservation Status

Field Cuckoo Bumblebee Locations

Field Cuckoo Bumblebee Locations

Field Cuckoo Bumblebee Facts

Prey
other bumblebees
Main Prey
Bombus pascuorum, the common carder bee.
Name Of Young
larvae
Group Behavior
  • Solitary
Fun Fact
Field cuckoo bumblebees lay their eggs in established nests of other species
Estimated Population Size
Undetermined
Biggest Threat
habitat loss
Most Distinctive Feature
black and yellow bands
Distinctive Feature
yellow band on thorax
Other Name(s)
N/A
Gestation Period
2-5 days
Temperament
solitary
Wingspan
0.5-1 inch
Training
N/A
Optimum pH Level
N/A
Incubation Period
6-8 weeks
Age Of Independence
6-8 weeks
Age Of Fledgling
6-8 weeks (emergence)
Average Spawn Size
300-1000
Litter Size
N/A
Habitat
fields and open grassy areas
Predators
Birds, spiders, wasps
Diet
Herbivore
Average Litter Size
N/A
Lifestyle
  • Diurnal
Favorite Food
nectar
Type
Bombus campestris
Common Name
Field cuckoo bumblebee
Special Features
black and yellow banded body
Origin
Europe
Number Of Species
250
Location
Europe, Russia
Slogan
N/A
Group
colony
Nesting Location
underground
Age of Molting
various times throughout larval stage

Field Cuckoo Bumblebee Physical Characteristics

Color
  • Yellow
  • Black
  • White
  • Dark Brown
  • Orange
Skin Type
Exoskeleton
Lifespan
3 months- 1 year
Weight
less than 1 ounce
Height
0.25 inches
Length
0.6-0.7 inches
Age of Sexual Maturity
6 -8 weeks
Age of Weaning
N/A
Venomous
No
Aggression
Low

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Field cuckoo bumblebees (Bombus campestris) are common and widespread throughout Europe. These cuckoo bumblebees lay their eggs in the nests of other bumblebees. This is why they are called cuckoos! They share their name with birds in the family Cuculidae. Cuckoo birds lay their eggs in the nests of different species, often to the detriment of the host bird’s offspring. Same with the developing cuckoo bumblebee larvae. The field cuckoo’s larvae consume the food intended for the host colony’s offspring. Keep reading to learn why it is necessary for the field cuckoo bumblebee to rely on other bumblebee species to rear their young.

Five Facts about Field Cuckoo Bees

  • Field cuckoo bumblebees are brood parasites
  • Female cuckoos lay their eggs in established nests of other species
  • Field cuckoos do not stay with their broods
  • The nests of Bombus pascuorum, the common carder bee are used which to lay their eggs
  • Field cuckoo bumblebees are a species of least concern

Scientific Name

Bombus campestris the scientific binomial name for the field cuckoo bumblebee literally translates to buzzing field. Bombus is Latin for buzzing, and campus is Latin for field, a reference to the habitat preference of field cuckoo bumblebees. Field cuckoos, as their name suggests, prefer fields and other open grassy areas. The genus Bombus is a reference to the characteristic buzzing of a bumblebee’s vibrating wings.

Appearance

The field cuckoo bumblebee has a distinctive appearance, with a yellow band around the middle of its body and dark wings. The head is black and the thorax has alternating bands of yellow and black. The abdomen is mostly black with splotches of yellow on the sides. Melanic, or dark-form individuals are not uncommon. Field cuckoos are medium-sized bumblebees. They measure between 0.5-0.7 inches long. Females of the species are larger than males. Characteristically absent are the pollen baskets, called corbiculae (singularly corbicula), which are essential to the task of keeping a brood alive.

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Colorful closeup on a fluffy male Field cuckoo-bee, Bombus campestris a bumblebee parasite , on a purple flower. the bee is perch on top of the flower, facing frame left. The bee is striped black and faint yellow.

The field cuckoo bumblebee has a distinctive appearance, with a yellow band around the middle of its body and dark wings.

©HWall/Shutterstock.com

Behavior

Field cuckoo bumblebees do not usually kill the host queen. However, the presence of cuckoo bumblebee larvae in a host nest can significantly reduce the viability of the host colony. In some cases, the increased competition for food and resources caused by the cuckoo bumblebee larvae can lead to the failure of the host colony. Field cuckoo bumblebees lay their eggs in the established nests, principally those of Bombus pascuorum, the common carder bee.

Habitat

Field cuckoo bumblebees are native to Europe and Asia. Field cuckoos are quite common in England and Wales. They are widespread throughout these regions and are commonly found in grasslands, meadows, and other open spaces. Flower-rich habitats are ideal.

Diet

As larvae, field cuckoo bumblebees consume the food stores (nectar and pollen) of the host colony, which they had intended to feed their own larvae. As adult bumblebees, field cuckoos feed on the nectar and pollen of flowering plants to obtain the energy and nutrients they need to survive and reproduce. Preferred nectar sources are thistle, dandelion, red clover, and ground ivy.. Males of the species will also forage on knapweed.

Predators and Threats

Habitat loss, climate change, pesticides, herbicides, disease, and competition for resources are among the threats to the continued existence of field cuckoo bumblebees. Increases in urban and suburban development reduce the availability of suitable habitats for field cuckoo bumblebees. Changes in temperature and precipitation, resulting from climate change, affect the timing and availability of food sources for field cuckoos. Either from direct exposure or from lingering contamination in the air and groundwater, pesticides and herbicides have debilitating effects on bumblebees. Diseases can destroy entire colonies of bumblebees. Nosema, a fungal disease causes gut infections and weakens the bee’s immune system. Deformed wing virus and acute bee paralysis are viruses that can lead to colony collapse. Even healthy colonies of bumblebees must compete for food and resources with other species, native and invasive.

Conservation Status and Population

As of 2014, Bombus campestris is listed as a species of least concern on The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. In the intervening years, research is finding that bumblebees are declining at concerning rates. It would follow that field cuckoo bumblebees are suffering a similar fate. Population estimates are not readily available. for several reasons including that, as a parasitic species, cuckoos are difficult to track and observe. Trends in the general bumblebee population, however, would suggest that Bombus campestris populations are declining. The declining bumblebee populations are due to habitat loss, agricultural chemicals, and disease. To stem their decline, conservation measures, such as protected habitats, will be required.

Lifecycle

The lifecycle of the field cuckoo bumblebee begins when the female cuckoo emerges in late spring to early summer in search of a nest in which to deposit her eggs. Once she has scouted the perfect nest, she infiltrates. The field cuckoo maintains a low profile for the next few days as she picks up the scent of the colony. Once she has been identified/accepted as a member, the female field cuckoo bumblebee deposits her eggs in the cells that have been prepared for the host’s eggs. The field cuckoo then departs the nest, never to return. A few days later, before the host’s eggs hatch, the cuckoo’s eggs hatch,. The cuckoo larvae consume the food stores intended for the host colony’s offspring. As they grow, the cuckoo larvae continue to rely on the resources the host colony offers.
After shedding their exoskeletons multiple times (a/k/a molting), the larvae become the pupae which will undergo metamorphosis, developing into adult bumblebees. From egg to emergence takes approximately 6-8 weeks. Environmental factors like location, rainfall, and availability of resources determine the precise schedule. Once the cuckoo’s offspring emerge from the nest, they are capable of fending for themselves, foraging on flowers. When fall rolls around, field cuckoo bumblebees seek shelter, individually, underground. when the mercury rises in the spring, the field cuckoo emerges to start the cycle all over again.

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About the Author

Kathryn Koehler is a writer at A-Z-Animals where her focus is on unusual animals, places, and events. Kat has over 20 years of experience as a professional writer and educator. She holds a master's degree from Vanderbilt University. When she is not writing for A-Z-Animals, Kat enjoys puttering in her garden, baking deliciously healthful treats for her family, and playing with her two rescue mutts, Popcorn and Scooter. She resides in Tennessee.

Field Cuckoo Bumblebee FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Where do field cuckoo bumblebees live?

Not surprisingly, field cuckoo bees live in fields and other open, grassy areas.

What threats do field cuckoo bumblebees face?

Habitat loss, climate change, pesticides, herbicides, disease, and competition for resources are among the threats to the continued existence of field cuckoo bumblebees. Increases in urban and suburban development reduce the availability of suitable habitats for field cuckoo bumblebees. Changes in temperature and precipitation resulting from climate change alter the timing and availability of food sources for field cuckoos. Either from direct exposure or from lingering contamination in the air and groundwater, pesticides and herbicides have debilitating effects on bumblebees.

What do field cuckoo bumblebees eat?

As larvae, field cuckoo bumblebees consume the food stores (nectar and pollen) of the host colony, which they had intended to feed their own larvae. As adult bumblebees, field cuckoos feed on the nectar and pollen of flowering plants to obtain the energy and nutrients they need to survive and reproduce

Why can't field cuckoo bumblebee rear their own offspring?

Due to evolutionary adaptations, field cuckoo bumblebees no longer have pollen baskets, or corbiculae (singularly corbicula), which are essential to the task of keeping a brood alive. Lacking corbiculae to fetch and carry pollen back to the hive, cuckoos can’t supply the necessary nourishment to keep a brood alive.

Are field cuckoo bumblebees an endangered species?

No! Not according to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. As of 2014, Bombus campestris is listed as a species of least concern.  In the intervening years, research is finding that bumblebees s a genus are declining at concerning rates. It would follow that field cuckoo bumblebees are suffering a similar fate. Population estimates are not readily available, for several reasons including that, as a parasitic species, cuckoos are difficult to track and observe. Trends in the general bumblebee population, however, would suggest that Bombus campestris populations are declining. The declining bumblebee populations are due to habitat loss, agricultural chemicals, and disease. To stem their decline, conservation measures, such as protected habitats, will be required.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.

Sources
  1. bumblebeeconservation.otg, Available here: https://www.bumblebeeconservation.org/ginger-yellow-bumblebees/field-cuckoo-bumblebee/
  2. naturespot,org.uk, Available here: https://www.naturespot.org.uk/species/field-cuckoo-bumblebee
  3. habitas.org.uk, Available here: http://www.habitas.org.uk/priority/species.asp?item=9857
  4. wikipedia.org, Available here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bombus_campestris
  5. iucnredlist.org, Available here: https://www.iucnredlist.org

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