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Bumblebees on Comfrey

Thursday, 20th June 2002, West Yorkshire

comfreybumblebee pollen sacsComfrey, growing as a garden escape, forms a clump six feet high on waste ground by the track at the top of Deadman's Lane, Thornhill. One of the larger bumblebees attracted to the blooms has pollen-baskets on its hind legs which are so loaded with pollen that they look like a couple of pale beetles hitching a ride. Laden as it is, the bee continues visiting the flowers.

nectar thief bumblebee on comfrey Nearby three or four smaller bumblebees are checking out flowers at a rate of three or four to every one the larger bee visits. While this larger bee visits the flowers via the 'front door' the smaller ones buzz at reckless speed to the 'back entrance'. Each flower has a small hole that has already been opened up to give direct access to the nectaries. I recently watched bees using the same technique on aquilegia. There's a dribble of sugary nectar from each hole.

comfrey leaf with mildew or mould spots Some of the leaves below the flowers are turning a darker, sooty, shade with lighter spots which I guess is caused by mildews and moulds growing on the spilt nectar. A similar thing happens when aphids feed on the underside of sycamore leaves, drizzling honeydew onto the leaves page

Richard Bell
Richard Bell,
wildlife illustrator

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