Steph O'Connor

Steph O’Connor

Research Assistant

BSc (Hons) Wildlife Biology, University of Newcastle (2006)


Research Assistant post funded by Leverhulme Trust.


Room 3A135 - Cottrell Building

Biological & Environmental Sciences
School of Natural Sciences
University of Stirling
Scotland, FK9 4LA


tel: +44 1786 467831
email: Steph O’Connor

Interactions between mammals and bumblebees

In the summer months bumblebees are easily observed collecting nectar and pollen from flowers and as a result, aspects of their foraging behaviour and requirements have been widely studied and reported in the literature.  Less well studied are bumblebee nests which are commonly situated in the disused burrows of small mammals like mice and voles.  Measurements such as survival through the season, production of gynes and males, parasitism and predation are less well studied as bumblebee nests are notoriously hard to find.

Biological and Environmental Sciences owns a dog called Toby, who was trained by a branch of the military to sniff out bumblebee nests.  Toby will be helping me to find nests which I will attempt to monitor with cameras hopefully find out more about bumblebee nests. 

I am especially interested in the predators of bumblebee nests.  Badgers (Meles meles) dig up and eat bumblebees, along with other predators like foxes (Vulpes vulpes) and mink (Mustela vison).  Perhaps more surprisingly, mice also destroy nests, as reported in Darwin’s On the Origin of Species:

“The number of humble-bees in any district depends in a great degree on the number of field-mice, which destroy their combs and nests; and Mr. H. Newman, who has long attended to the habits of humble-bees, believes that “more than two thirds of them are thus destroyed all over England.” Now the number of mice is largely dependent, as every one knows, on the number of cats; and Mr. Newman says, “Near villages and small towns I have found the nests of humble-bees more numerous than elsewhere, which I attribute to the number of cats that destroy the mice.” Hence it is quite credible that the presence of a feline animal in large numbers in a district might determine, through the intervention first of mice and then of bees, the frequency of certain flowers in that district!”

In addition to mammalian predators, invertebrates like wax moths, wasps and cuckoo bees may invade nests and my research aims to investigate the occurrence of such phenomenon.

Other Interests
Ferrets and Shooting

Toby is the School of Biological and Environmental Sciences’ ‘bumblebee nest sniffer-dog.’
Toby is the Biological and Environmental Sciences ‘bumblebee nest sniffer-dog.’

Toby and I appeared on BBC’s ‘The One Show’ and BBC Breakfast News in 2008.
Toby and I appeared on BBC’s ‘The One Show’ and BBC Breakfast News in 2008.