I have chosen Anthophora plumipes as my first “bee” post. I feel he was the one that started it all. It was a he.
My knowledge was such that I did not even recognise him as a bee. My husband noticed something staring out of a hole in between the stones in the wall of our house. It looked like an insect. I posted a photograph on iSpot and “Eucera” came back with the identification – Anthophora plumipes, male. I thought it was an amazing ID – he even knew the sex and only had a shot of the head to go on!
So it was the spring of 2011 that I realised that there were many more bees than honey bees and bumble bees and I started to see more both inside and outside of the garden.
This spring I was ready for them. I had worked out by now that the males were guarding the holes waiting for the females to come. I wanted to watch the females build their nests.
There was plenty of activity around the wall but the give away sign was the accumulation of stone powder caught on a cobweb strung across a plant beside the wall. I soon found the hole the powder was coming from and watched the female enter and heard her activity and buzzing as she excavated her nest. I enjoyed the privilege of knowing where her nest site was and watching her coming and going. The entrance was not clearly visible but there are other nests in the wall where the entrance is more obvious. These are given away by the dusting of grit that lines them like a little path leading to the nest.
I had never been terrible keen on Cerinthe and these ones had self-seeded and flourished very well this spring.
I will cherish the seedlings this year as they were the favourite flowers of the Anthophora in March.
The Anthophora fly very quickly and do not stay on the flower for a long time.
There is no necessity for me to post so many photographs of the Anthophora on the Cerinthe. My only excuse is that I found them totally delightful.
Not a good photograph but one that illustrates how fluffy these bees are.
I was delighted with my identification until I acquired the excellent book “Bees of Surrey” by David W. Baldock. His photographs of the A. plumipes females show them as all black. My females were grey.
The hunt was on to get a good picture of the males, not an easy task as they are very fast flying. The sprouts had gone to seed in the back garden and I finally captured the male who modelled his beautiful long fronds of black hair against the the yellow flowers of the sprouts.
My males are A. plumipes but are grey like the females and not brown haired like their relations in the UK.
The problem with being a spring flying bee is that spring showers can arrive quickly and temperatures drop rapidly. I found this poor bee, damp and clutching on to a Cerinthe flower. It was still alive and I took the opportunity to photograph it quickly on a white piece of paper. It soon warmed up inside and was happy to fly away again when the sun returned. A lot of the bees were sporting the yellow patch on the top of their thorax where the pollen of the Cerinthe had adhered.
I would like to construct a white box as one of my winter projects to see if I can improve my close-up photographs of the bees which until now I have only tried on a sheet of white paper.
I saw a group of them in May nectaring on Muscari comosum by the side of the road. They were the same colouration as the ones in my garden.
The photograph is not top quality but the hairy legs are a give-away – a male Anthophora plumipes.
I presume his companion must be an A. plumipes female as I would imagine that they would hang around together, or do they?
I haven’t found a French book on solitary bees but I would be very grateful to hear about any. In the meantime I rely on “Bees of Surrey” and some internet sites. David Baldock does give some advice to the beginner on identification although he is presuming you are collecting them, which I haven’t done yet. He suggests to aim to be able to identify 20 bees using an identification key. His next suggestion is more difficult to follow. You take your collection of 20 bees to someone who really knows about these things to verify your ID’s. My aim is to try to ID the bees by watching and photographing them (I know this is not perfect but I did say try!). I have managed to get a key for the identification of the Anthophora of Belgium and Northern France which has been a great help, however, I live in the South West of France but I am not complaining!
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