Wild bees are pretty amazing creatures. I already knew that – I have the books sitting on my bookshelf and in my wishlist to prove it. But I attended a talk this week that gave me even more reasons to love bees and, hopefully the inspiration to go out and study them in the local area (as there are not that many records for this part of the country).
Most bees are excavators, although some nest in holes in walls (or bee hotels) and some make their nest in empty snail shells (they hide these under sticks they collect – how cool is that?). They provision a cell with pollen, lay an egg and seal it up, then leave more pollen and an egg and onwards until they reach the front. Girl bees will be at the back with more pollen (because they are bigger larvae and bees) and boy bees at the front so they emerge first and are ready when the girls emerge.
One species of furrow bee is sometimes a solitary bee and sometimes a social bee – in the north they are solitary and in the south they are more likely to be social – the queen producing workers to forage whilst she guards the nest.
One solitary bee , Ceratina cyanea, (which unfortunately doesn’t seem to live in Northamptonshire) is fairly unique in a) living in bramble stems and b) surviving the winter as an adult.
Bees also have their parasites and cuckoos – in fact 27% of bee species in this country are brood parasites – that means they take over the host’s nest rather than killing and eating the larvae (although the queen often gets killed). Fortunately, the parasites are rarer than their hosts – otherwise they would soon wipe themselves out. One set of brood parasites are the Nomada bees (that look a lot like wasps) – these wasp-like bees are about the same size as their hosts and find them by smelling their nests. I took these pictures of the Ashy Mining bee and its associated Nomada parasite at work.
There are lots more amazing facts that make solitary and bumble bees worth studying, but I don’t want to reveal all their secrets.
130 species have been recorded in Northamptonshire, but only 80 have been recorded since 2000. Some may have been lost, mainly due to land use change, but some may still be here just waiting to be found. Now where’s my guide book and sweep net?
OK, two bee posts in two days, but this was the most interesting thing I learned today (apart from the fact that potassium permanganate is used to treat weeping skin blisters as a last resort) whilst listening to a Radio 4 podcast.
First seen in 2001 the Ivy Bee ( Colletes hederae )is slowly progressing up the British Isles as shown on the survey map. These beesstart to fly around the end of August and have around a six week flight window coinciding with the flowering period of ivy. Although I haven’t seen one they apparently look like furry ginger wasps.
As with many solitary bees these dig a hole in the ground in which to lay their eggs. One pair will have around 10 offspring with up to 18 in a good year. In order to make sure the larva can survive for 10 to 11 months underground they provision the chamber where the egg is laid with up to 3million grains of pollen and nectar – this takes about 6 trips for each chamber – quite a task if you only live for about three weeks!
Although these bees are doing well – there is no need to worry – as with other bees, the males don’t sting and the females are very docile. As they have recently evolved they don’t yet have any predators here that have evolved with them and, as they don’t appear to pose any threat to native insects, let’s hope that they continue to flourish. I’ll be setting a reminder in my calendar to look for them next September. Looking at photos of them that I have found around the inter web I am fairly hopeful that I might recognise one if I see it. I have included a photo below from Wikipedia taken by Hectonichus – maybe ginger humbugs was a good description!
OK, another post about bees, and, it is partly an excuse to put another picture of a bee on my blog, but there is a point I want to make. There has been a lot of concern about honey bees and the sudden collapse of hives (often this concern is motivated by the potential disaster for farmers and lost revenues), there has also been some publicity regarding bumble bees, following this I joined the Bumble Bee Conservation Trust, but what about other bees? Other bees I hear you say – well, yes, what about solitary bees. Before this Spring I didn’t really think about other types of bee, but once I started looking at them, the diversity amongst this set of insects becomes quite amazing.
In addition to the tawny mining bee that I mentioned in an earlier post, I have also come across the little chapess in the photo in my garden. Once again I turned to I Spot as I had no idea what this was. She was almost totally black, with a long proboscis and was totally obsessed with my pulmonaria. She is in fact a hairy footed flower bee – what a fantastic name (anthophora plumipes). Both this bee and the tawny mining bee are solitary bees. In this species the females are black apart from their pollen baskets whilst the males are more of a gingery colour. They have particularly long tongues which they cannot fully retract, which is quite noticeable as they hover in front of flowers. Although I have never noticed one before they are quite widespread in the South of England and are common visitors to gardens.
So, now you know, not all bees are bumble bees or honey bees, not all are stripy and (like the tawny mining bee) not all bees sting.