Bombus sylvestris is a small bumblebee, the queen having a body length of 15 millimetres (0.59 in) and the male one of 14 millimetres (0.55 in). The head is round and the proboscis (tongue) is short. Its fur is black with a yellow collar and a white tail. Sometimes the bumblebee can have a few pale hairs on top of the head, the scutellum and on tergite (abdominal segment) 1. The male can sometimes be more or less melanic, or, very rarely in northern Scotland, have a tail that is yellow instead of white.
Bombus sylvestris is present in most of Europe (including Russian Asia) from the northern half of the Iberian peninsula, southern Italy and the Balkans in the south to beyond the Arctic circle in the north, and from Ireland in the west to easternmost Russia. In Britain it has a widespread but patchy distribution, the major areas being the south-east, north-eastern England and east Scotland.
The species is a cuckoo bumblebee, that instead of constructing a nest of its own usurpates nests other bumblebees. Its major host is Bombus pratorum, but Bombus jonellus and Bombus monticola are also visited.
When patrolling for young queens to mate with, the males fly in circuits about 1 m above ground, marking objects with pheromones to attract the queens.
The bumblebee often visits thistles and bramble. The queen also feeds on flowers as sallow, deadnettles, dandelion, bay, horse chestnut, lavender and others, while the male visits clover, green alkanet, hound's-tongue, knapweed and many others.
- Bombus sylvestris Lepeletier, 1833 ITIS Report
- "Bombus sylvestris (Lepeletier, 1832)". Biolib.cz. http://www.biolib.cz/en/taxon/id70376/. Retrieved 3 July, 2012.
- Pierre Rasmont. "Bombus (Psithyrus) vestalis (Fourcroy, 1785)". Université de Mons. http://zoologie.umh.ac.be/hymenoptera/pagetaxon.asp?tx_id=3060. Retrieved 6 January 2013.
- Benton, Ted (2006). "Chapter 9: The British Species". Bumblebees. London, UK: HarperCollins Publishers. pp. 423-425. ISBN 0007174519.
- "Cuckoo bumblebees". Bumblebee.org. http://www.bumblebee.org/cuckoo.htm. Retrieved 5 January 2013.