A new Megachile in the garden

A new Megachile in the garden

It was a beautiful day on Sunday (18.7.2021) and I thought I would have a look at the bees on the flowers in the garden. I saw one on the Cosmos that I did not recognise.

Luckily I got a shot of the wing venation, and it is luck for me because it depends on the angle of the sun and how long the bee will stay in place.

The two sub marginal cells allowed me to confirm that it was a Megachile.

I would always like to go further but it is impossible to be precise from a photograph and I am not an entomologist, so I do not capture the bees for a closer look.

He looked like a male but I could not recall ever seeing him before but I had seen photographs on the internet.

This made me wonder if it was a Lithurgus chrysurus male. These are Mediterranean bees – but I am further north in the Charente Maritime.

They build their nests in dead, dry often rotting wood or even cow pats. Well, we have plenty of rotting wood left around the garden and certainly in the woods around us. Another feature is the extra long tongue which facilitates getting nectar from some plants such as the Centaurea. Cosmos is in the same family of Asteraceae so perhaps my bee is happy with my cosmos. He certainly had a long tongue.

So, I cannot be certain of my ID but he is very welcome in the garden and I am fascinated by his beautiful green eyes.

First female of the season

First female of the season

I had always thought the Osmia cornuta males had to wait several weeks before the females appeared. So I was very surprised to see the first female Osmia cornuta, yesterday, the 4 February 2021. That is exactly one week after I saw the first male Osmia emerge.

She was actually on the ground in the tight embrace of a male Osmia cornuta when I noticed her.

With the digital camera you have no need to take a note of the time you take the photograph so I had a good record of how long she remained subjugated. It looked fairly consensual if you accept the fact that the male had her wings tightly gripped closed. She was able to walk with her burden up a shooting clematis. She is much larger than the male and I think she could have manage to release herself had she chosen.

They were just under the bee box which was being patrolled by the usual bunch of hopeful males. The other males eventually spotted the female and tried some dive bomb tactics to dislodge their rival.

Interesting as it all was, I had to leave them at it and go in for lunch. The last photograph I took of them was still on the Clematis after 52 minutes of togetherness.

I have better photographs of the female on an old blog “A good spring for Osmia cornuta”.

I will now have to see if she chooses my boxes to make her nest.

They are out!

They are out!

Yesterday I thought I saw one fly past the bee houses. Today I had my camera at the ready and I saw the first male Osmia cornuta starting their search for a mate.

I never tire of seeing the first faces peer out of the holes.

It takes a little while to work up the courage to come totally out.

The next step is a good groom. He has managed to chew his way out of the capsule his mother so carefully sealed last summer with grains of sand like material. However, squeezing through his exit has left him covered in fine debris and he must smarten up before he competes with the other males for a female.

It will be a long wait, usually a few weeks before the females emerge. This year spring has started early. February 24 is an early date for the Osmia cornuta to emerge.

I have noticed a lot of “Gendarme” beetles (Pyrrhocoris apterus) this year. Seemingly they eat dead or dying insects. I hope they act as housekeepers for the bee houses as it is not only the bees that use them.

This little wasp seemed over awed by its larger more forceful neighbour.

Shield bugs have also been very evident this winter. It has been a wet winter but not very cold, so perhaps it was a good winter for them.

This one might be a Gorse Shield Beetle (Pyrrhocoris apterus), there is certainly plenty of gorse around here.

I got these hints on the beetles from the marvellous sites of Chris Luck. I have found his sites so helpful and he keeps adding additional information.

First solitary bee of 2021 (not counting bumbles)

First solitary bee of 2021 (not counting bumbles)

That’s not a honey bee!

I was watching idly yesterday (16 February 2021) while the honeybees were feasting on the winter flowering heather. The bee in question was the same size as our honeybees but looking at it closely it was most definitely not a honeybee.

I was very impressed that it was my husband that spotted the bee as I am the one that is more interested in the solitary bees.

I thought he was very handsome and his long antenna made me think he was a male.

Just as I was thinking that you could never be sure – another bee arrived and he leapt on top of her – which settled the question. She was larger and after a few brief couplings they both flew off. He was much more gentle than some of the very aggressive males, perhaps there was no competition around.

I desperately tried to get some good photographs of the female but with no luck. This is the best and the orange tibia hairs leave more questions than answers.

The identity of the bee has been solved by El Gritche! He has commented on my blog A French Garden and says they are Colletes and probably succinctus! So kind of him to leave a comment! I should have thought about Colletes on heather.

I did not get a good shot of the wing venation but I think they are Andrena. I checked and there are 65 species of Andrena in the U.K. (probably more in France.) So with so little information I can give no identification.

It was a lovely moment though just watching them!

A stowaway

A stowaway

a french garden

The saffron has just about finished now and I am only getting two or three blooms a day. I took this picture on the 21 October 2020 to show the average daily “harvest” I was getting at this period.

I always leave collecting the saffron until late afternoon so that the bumble bees can enjoy them before I pick them. However, after I collected flowers, I got busy and left the bowl until the next morning.

In the morning I started to open up the flowers and put the pistils to one side to dry. Then I saw my stowaway!

A little bee was in the saffron! At least this time I can be sure of my identification down to the family level. It is a female from the Halictidae family as you can see the groove or rima at the end of her abdomen. She is likely a Halictus…

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July 2020 Beehouse Update

July 2020 Beehouse Update

I have numerous beehouses around the garden.  I admit the ones I watch most are where I pass more frequently and where a lot of Osmia nest in springtime, so the action is difficult to miss at those ones.  This beehouse. however, requires some nimble footwork over carefully positioned stepping stones to reach it, so I confess I can miss the comings and goings.

I was first alerted on the 4.7.20 by an Anthidium maniculatum, or wool carder bee, cleaning out one of the holes in the wooden log.  She is a favourite of mine as she is such a hard working and long suffering bee.  If you would like to see more on how she nests and brings in her cotton, I have a post on the wool carder bee here.

When I looked more closely at the house I saw that a lot of the holes had been filled.  The hole above had clearly been closed with pieces of leaf which meant I had missed the leaf-cutting bees last year.

There was also some little bees going into other holes that had been filled with a crystalline filling.

All very confusing and then a few days later I noticed the leaf hole was open and different bees were coming and going through the gap.  I presume this was the male bees attracted to the new females trying to get in first.  They moved too quickly to get a good photograph of them.

The female leaf cutter bees started to clean out their selected holes or tubes.  Any rubbish was gripped by their mandibles and taken far from the nest.

I noticed this leaf cutter cleaning out a hole that had been used by the wool carder bee last year.  Or maybe it was not last years wool as it looks quite clean, maybe there can be a bit of rivalry for a particularly comfy hole?

There are two bees inside this hole so it is difficult to see exactly what is happening.  Some males getting over excited at the prospect of newly hatched females?

The tubes were being filled at the same time.  Some of the leaf cutter bees mash up the leaves and you can see the fresh green surface of the filled tube under the bee in this photo.  I’ll have to look earlier next year to see all the different bees.

The new leaf hole was repaired by 14.7.20.  It was a week of frantic activity and so easy to miss if you are busy in the garden or elsewhere.  Do check in your bee houses as often the holes are not filled exactly flush to the outside of the log or the tube.  Often tell tale trails of pollen leading from the holes alerts you to the activity.  It may not be only yellow pollen as I saw the leaf cutters bringing in pink and lilac pollen which particularly delights me.

I did track a leaf cutter down to the other side of the garden on my Anisodontea, which maybe the source of the pink pollen.  She was carefully cutting a small piece from a fading leaf.  There were plenty of green leaves but she chose the drying one.  I am not sure if this was the same species I was seeing in my houses.

I am pretty sure this is one of the leaf cutters I have in my boxes.

I noticed a suspicious looking visitor.  I do not know what it is but it could be one of the many insects that is parasitic on the bees,

I am looking forward to seeing them when they hatch next year.  I only saw the black insect once.

Watching the bees make their nests is fascinating.  I was watching three different species using the box at the same time!  If you do not have a bee house I recommend one – not for the bees as I am sure they are capable of find plenty of suitable places – but for the sheer pleasure of sharing these brief moments with them.

The little bees

The little bees

I was watching the bees and butterflies mob my Evodia tree (or Tedradium daniellii, depending on what you want to call it).  At the same time I noticed clouds of tiny flies around the flowers.  I had never noticed such numbers of tiny flies being attracted to my other “pollinator attractive” plants.

I managed to get close to some of the flowers on the lower branches and look closer at the “flies”.

I was horrified to see on closer inspection that they were tiny bees that I had mistaken for flies.  I measured the Evodia’s petal and it is between 4-5 mm., so that gives you an indication of how small these bees are.

I have already posted about Carpenter bees in France.

I can imagine these big but harmless bees terrifying tourists from northern Europe as they relax in the garden of their holiday home and experience these bees for the first time.  The first reflex is often to reach for the insect spray and kill them.

I had just jumped to the conclusion that the insects were flies based solely on their numbers.  However, the thought occurred to me that whereas the Carpenter bee was at risk in human encounters because of its size, the little bee could be endangered for the same reason but at the other end of the spectrum – being mistaken for a fly.

Bees have the unsolicited benefit of being seen as “cute” to a large section of the human race and “useful” and to be protected to many more.  Flies and other creepy crawlies have much less protection against the whims of human nature, despite frequently being pollinators themselves.

I have been seeing plenty of the little bees in the garden and they are easy to find on the Thalictrum.

I managed to measure the anthers of the Thalictrum stamens to be around 3-3.5 mm.  which looks about the same length as the bee.

I hope that enthusiastic gardeners think before reaching for the spray can and realise that these little bees are not going to bite them or their children or consume large quantities of their favorite plants, nor yet spread diseases.

They visit a variety of flowers and I was surprised to see them visiting the water lilies.

I feel I have little chance of identifying them.  Even with the help of Steven Falk’s wonderful book “Field Guide to the Bees of Great Britain and Ireland” their identification is beyond me.  However, the tell-tale vertical slit in the last segment of the abdomen of the females make me think they are Lassioglossom bees.  There are so many species that it is quite possible that I have more than one species visiting the garden.

I just hope anyone reading this appreciates how small bees can be and cherishes them.

First wild bee of the year

First wild bee of the year

1st bee

It was only the 12 February 2019 and I saw my first solitary bee taking nectar from the Viburnum tinus in the garden.

2nd bee

Almost immediately I spotted another one, slightly larger, but not I thought the same species.

1st bee on top

The first bee is very much like a male to me and I was keen to get a photograph of the wing venation to identify it to genera level.

1st bee venation

I thought I had it and saw the second bee on the ground.

2nd bee under plum tree

The second bee looked interested in prospecting the area.  Looking out for females, I wondered?  This is under our plum tree and there is already a colony of Andrena cineraria in residence that will put in an appearance later in the year but I could see no sign of any holes and I did not get a wing shot.

Back inside I found that the wing venation photograph was not as good as I had hoped but I thought I could perhaps push through the identification key in Steven Falk’s Field Guide to the Bees of Great Britain and Ireland.  When I turned up with the proposed ID as a bumblebee I realised I had gone adrift somewhere.

Never mind, perhaps another day.

queen bumble white tail.JPG

Then the idea came to me that I could perhaps identify the huge white tailed queen that is with me throughout the winter on sunny days.

But no – this too is past my ken.

queen bumble early

On the 12th. I had also seen for the first time the orange tailed queen.  I am fairly certain this is Bombus pratorum, the early bumble bee.

queen carder bee.JPGToday, 15th. February I saw my first carder queen.  I am not even trying to go closer than that.  I am just happy to see so many bees in the garden in the sunshine.

Ginger bee

Ginger bee

I saw this bee on Lavender growing in our village.  It was healthy and flying rapidly and did not look old or faded.

I find that its colour is quite remarkable.  In fact, although it looked like a honey bee I had to assure myself that it had hairs on its eyes and wing venation that agreed with the identification of a honey bee.

I have seen “black bees” and Italian bees but never this colour of bee.

Does anyone know if it is a special type of honey bee?

 

A good spring for Osmia cornuta

A good spring for Osmia cornuta

My bee houses have been rewarding me with lots of activity from the Osmia cornuta in the past weeks.  I’m sure they don’t need any help to find hollow nesting places but when they choose my hollow bamboo canes or drilled-out wood I have the pleasure of watching their antics.

The first I know that some bees have hatched is the frantic activity of the males.  This 17 second video gives you an idea of what it looks like.

I admire the tenacity of the males who guard the holes against all comers.  You can get the idea in this 16 second video.

The male can be easily recognised by the little tuft of white hair on his head.  They are around several weeks before the females eventually hatch and then the excitement really mounts.

The mating is not an elegant affair and this pair managed to get stuck in the tube in a sort of impasse where neither was prepared to cede defeat.

I noticed this mating pair under the box and I was surprised by the females stoic non-resistance.  That was until I saw the photograph on the computer and noticed that the male had a firm grip on her wings and back legs.

The male eventually decided to dismount and release her.

The female is a very attractive bee and is larger than the male, which is not uncommon in bees.  She lays her eggs in hollow stems or crevices and supplies the future larvae with pollen for nourishment.  She pushes the pollen firmly in place with the help of two little horns on her head.

The horns are under the antennae and as the horns are black they are difficult to see amongst the black hairs of her head.  They are best seen in a photograph.

Once the females have emerged they begin their frantic search for the perfect hole.  Despite the abundance of choice from our point of view the females have a need to explore.

Eventually one will meet her high requirements and the egg laying and pollen collection will begin.

Pollen collecting is a serious business even if putting it in place can get a bit messy.