New species of bumblebee arrived from the north and settled in Estonia

Bombus sporadicus Nylander.
Bombus sporadicus Nylander. Source: Villu Soon

In mid-July, Villu Soon, a biology researcher at the University of Tartu Natural History Museum, spotted the Bombus sporadicus Nylander near Lahemaa National Park. Despite being previously designated as protected in Estonia, every previous trace of the species was inaccurately identified. However, this new evidence suggests at least one Estonian colony.

"I saw a bombus sporadicus Nylander bumblebee near the northern coast in Lahemaa National Park. This sighting was not directly in the countryside, but on a tree-lined field lane near the edge of a forest," Soon recalled. Because this specimen was a worker, there had to be a whole colony nearby.

A long-winged bumblebee can be difficult to distinguish from other bumblebees to the untrained eye. The new species' hues are similar to those of the garden bumblebee (Bombus hortorum) in Estonia. "I can't give you a nice easy tip that anyone would recognize right away. Yes, its wings are longer and darker, but understanding such traits takes time," Soon said.

The species' journey to Estonia, on the other hand, is unusual. While new species typically arrive in Estonia from the south as the climate warms, the Bombus sporadicus Nylander bumblebee arrived from the north. "It is found in central Finland and Scandinavia, with a range that extends further east." It is more common in Siberia, for example," the biologist said.

There are no long-winged bumblebees in the taiga forest. Bumblebees, according to Soon, have little business in deep coniferous forests since conifers and mosses do not flower. "On the other hand, forest glades, forest edges, forest roads, meadows, clearings, gardens - all such landscapes in the taiga zone are its natural habitat," he went on to say.

Surprisingly, the long-winged bumblebee is now officially "returned" to Estonia, Soon said. Only officially, however, as the species was placed under Category III protection in Estonia decades ago without any actual sightings. "Ah, we have a few examples in our collections that I looked at, but they were misidentified." "These are males of other species, which may have a color pattern similar to the Bombus sporadicus Nylander bumblebee," the biologist explained.

Nobody has ever reported seeing a long-winged bumblebee on a precise day at a specific location in Estonia. "All that has been said is that it is protected, but why, how, or by whom, I don't know," Soon said. In the meantime, the Bombus sporadicus Nylander has been removed from the list of species found in Estonia. "We didn't have proof then, but now we do," he said.

If the reader wants to observe a new species up close, Soon recommends visiting Lahemaa National Park. As already mentioned, this was a worker bumblebee who belonged to a colony. "this wasn't just some random migrant; it had a nest that possibly produced an offspring generation." "They could potentially be spotted in the same Lahemaa next year," the biologist suggested. When sighting a bumblebee, Soon recommends photographing it and sending it to experts for identification, because the untrained eye may not be able to discern the species difference.

"However, I think we could search for it even more broadly: throughout North-East Estonia, the Alutagus region, and the northern coast. It could be anywhere," he said. The northern shore of Estonia, east of Tallinn, is a relatively unexplored location, as new species are more likely to be discovered on Estonia's southern border. "Maybe there's additional evidence of them in north-east Estonia, but we just haven't found it."


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Editor: Kristina Kersa

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