Me and the Great Yellow Bumblebee


Some of you may have gotten the impression that I have some opinions about bee conservation. So now I’m putting my money where my mouth is and getting a tattoo of Ireland’s most endangered bumblebee to raise funds for the Irish Wildlife Trust’s ‘People for Bees’ talks.

But why the Great Yellow Bumblebee?

While honeybees often get the best press in ‘Save the Bees’ hashtags, thanks to the hard work of dedicated beekeepers, it’s important to remember that bumblebees and solitary bees make up the majority of the bee population.

I’ve found that when a problem is huge and catastrophic it can actually be quite hard to take it seriously. I think sometimes that’s a problem climate change has, it too big to be imagined on a day-to-day basis. Biodiversity loss is the same. It’s wide and far-reaching, too far-reaching. Single species campaigns are often more successful because they let people focus on a single fixable problem.

Great yellow bumblebee (Bombus distinguendus). Photo credit: Nick Owens.


The Great Yellow Bumblebee has lost the majority of its habitat in Ireland and its range is now pushed back into just a few spots in the west of the country. It’s seen mostly between April and September and is underground nesting. I’ve never even seen one in real life, only photographs, though hopefully I’ll get the chance some day.

great yellow survey Post2008_Bombus_distinguendus

The main concentration of Great Yellows (which is still not many) seem to be focused around the Belmullet area of Co Mayo in the north-west. There was a survey carried out there last July (2017).

Belmullet Survey Photo credit: Ben Malone

The People for Bees workshops can help train people to take part in these kinds of surveys. Better data on a species is the first step towards its conservation.


But why get it tattooed?

The answer to this question is British hedgehog enthusiast Hugh Warwick.

Hugh Warwick works for the British Hedgehog Preservation Society and wrote a book on his work called a Prickly Affair.

In 2009 he attended a biodiversity conference. In the lobby as a promotional stunt people were getting tattoos of species they were pledging to protect. Warwick got a hedgehog as you might expect but was disappointed to find that many people there were more generalists, without his single-minded devotion. He wrote another book, Beauty in the Beast, about his time among some of the UK’s other most single-minded wildlife activists to see if anyone to convert him.

Now I am a generalist. The tragedy of those of us working in science communications is that you are jack of all trades and master of none. But it’s also diverse, and fun, and I wouldn’t change a thing.

But that idea of pledging yourself to a single species with a dedication that it would not go extinct on your watch really caught my imagination. Hopefully it can catch other people’s too.




3 comments on “Me and the Great Yellow Bumblebee”

  1. There’s something up with the iDonate link on this post – when I click on it, I get a security alert. The link on your last post worked fine though. Kudos on working for a good cause.

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