• Bees;
  • competition;
  • foraging preference;
  • lavender;
  • resource partitioning;
  • tongue lengths


  1. Lavender (Lavandula spp.) flowers attract more bumble bees (Bombus spp.) than honey bees (Apis mellifera). Counts of bees foraging on Lavandula × intermedia ‘Grosso’ at the University of Sussex campus, showed that bumble bees (92%) greatly outnumbered honey bees (8%). This was not due to a scarcity of honey bees, as the reverse ratio (94% honey bees vs. 6% bumble bees) occurred on borage (Borago officinalis) at the same location.
  2. Video analysis of free-flying bees revealed that all bumble bee species present (Bombus terrestris/lucorum, Bombus pascuorum, and Bombus lapidarius) handled lavender flowers three times faster than honey bees (mean extraction times: 0.38, 0.37, 0.34 s respectively, vs. 1.30 s; all P < 0.001). Honey bee tongue length (6.6 mm) was approximately 2 mm shorter than those of bumble bees (7.8–8.9 mm) and 1 mm shorter than the lavender corolla tube (c. 7 mm). In addition, bumble bees probed twice as many lavender flowers encountered than honey bees (86% vs. 46%).

  3. Experimentally reducing effective corolla tube length with scalpel incisions significantly decreased extraction time for honey bees (from 1.11 to 0.76 s; P < 0.001) but not for bumble bees (0.33 to 0.28 s; P = 0.266).
  4. Results suggest that honey bees are deterred from foraging on lavender because they are being outcompeted by bumble bees, which forage more efficiently.