London royalty is on the move as queen bumblebees awake from hibernation to seek new homes. Resplendent in yellow-and-black striped furs, these large, fuzzy bees are flying low over our parks and gardens, zig-zagging in search of nest sites.
The queen bee is looking for an old mouse hole, a spot under a garden shed, or even an upturned flower pot where she can safely lay her eggs.
To take flight, queen bumblebees need to be warm and can often be seen on the ground, buzzing noisily as they warm up their flight muscles. Once aloft — in itself a seemingly remarkable feat, given their small wings — the queen seeks out early- flowering plants such as pussy willow and cherry where she can fuel up.
Once a favoured nest site is found, her eggs are laid on a mound of pollen and wax, and kept warm by the queen. The first grubs to emerge are smaller females, which will forage for food and help protect the queen and her nest; those born later in the summer are males and new queens.
Bumblebees are superb pollinators, playing an important part in the lifecycles of many plants. Large amounts of pollen are carried in clumps on their rear legs back to the nests to feed their young. They have a special trick of buzzing so strongly that even stubborn flowers, such as those of the tomato, are forced to release an explosion of nutritious pollen grains. Different bumblebee species even have distinctive lengths of tongues so they can tap into many different flowers.
At this time of year, London is alive with nature as animals and plants wake to the warmth of spring. Nature provides us with comfort and reassurance, and nature survives just as London survives; a city where different species and different people can live together, whatever comes our way.
The London Wildlife Trust campaigns to protect the capital's wildlife and wild spaces. It is backed by Sir David Attenborough, president emeritus of The Wildlife Trusts.