The toes have it!

The toes have it!

21.8.13

21.8.13

One of the most beautiful bees that visits my garden is a late summer visitor and is a frequent visitor to the Salvia.

24.8.13

24.8.13

She also likes to visit the Verbena bonariensis and is the eighth bee I hope to have identified.

26.8.13

26.8.13

Here she is cleverly camouflaged on the stalk of lavender.

Amegilla albigena head

I managed some close-up photographs which I found difficult to apply to Anthophora species.  I now think she is Amegilla albigena.  Her facial markings agree with a photograph in Atlas Hymenoptera and her lovely white hairs on the hind tibiae are distinctive.

The toes have it!

The toes have it!

I was concerned I could confuse her with an Anthophora but Amegilla do not have an arolia –  that is a little pad between their toes or tarsal claws.

Anthophora

This Anthophora shows what I mean.  There is a pad between the two tarsal claws.

Anthophora rear viewThe same bee viewed from the rear.  (I think it is Anthophora aestivalis.)  The arolia or pads are easily visible.

13.7.13

13.7.13

So many beautiful bees pass through the garden.  In the summer the Hollyhocks are very popular with a variety of bees.  I caught this shy looking male Anthophora in a Hollyhock.  I think it could be Anthophora bimaculata, male Tetralonia malvae – see comments.

11.8.13

11.8.13

This could be a female Anthophora bimaculata – Tetralonia malvae female – see comments.  She has beautiful long silky hairs, perfect to gather pollen on her hind legs.

14.7.13

14.7.13

I managed to photograph this little beauty which I thought was Anthophora bimaculata but she flew away before I could take another  picture.  Anthophora are fast movers!

I’m still left with lots of Anthophora to identify which will probably have to wait until next summer but I know more now what to look for.

But I think the toes have it for my Amegilla (Zebramegilla) albigena.

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Osmia rufa – the good, the bad and the uncertain

Osmia rufa – the good, the bad and the uncertain

Male Osmia rufa in Lilac 28.4.13

Male Osmia rufa in Lilac 28.4.13

Before I go any further I think I should call my seventh identification Osmia bicornis as that is what BWARS uses.  I was particularly happy to see it in the garden this year as I had never seen it before.  The only mason bee to have occupied my old nest box was Osmia cornuta but more about her later.

Male Osmia bicornis diving into Lilac flowers

Male Osmia bicornis diving into Lilac flowers

The above image does not serve any identification purpose but I inserted it as I think it is cute as he stretches to reach the nectar deep in the flower.  It does, however, show he is infected by mites which will probably not cause him any harm and he should have served his purpose by fertilising the females now hard at work building their nests.

Osmia bicornis female 17.4.13

Osmia bicornis female 17.4.13

The Osmia bicornis females have two prongs on their face under their antenna.  The left one can be seen in profile in the image above but the black prongs do not come out well against the black head of the bee.  These are used to tamp in the mud they use to cement up the cells containing their eggs supplied with pollen and nectar.

In due course the eggs will hatch and the larvae will consume their provisions and go on to spin a cocoon in which they will pupate.  About 14-15 weeks after the egg has been laid, the adult bee will be formed.  The bee passes the winter in the adult form to emerge in the spring.

Now comes the good part.  I can become despondent at my lack of knowledge as I trawl through the internet or painstakingly try to make sense of an identification key.  Then the other day I found some pictures I had taken in a wood three kilometres from here about two years ago.

Osmia bicornis mating in Asphodel 13.4.2011

Osmia bicornis mating in Asphodel 13.4.2011

I was delighted to capture an image of the fluffy bees and at the time I thought they were bumble bees!  I soon realised they were not bumble bees but some sort of solitary bee.  As soon as I re-opened the file the other day I recognised them as Osmia bicornis.  That cheered me up!  It is a slow process but I am improving.

You can hardly see the female from the angle I have taken the photograph although she is considerably larger than the male.

Osmia bicornis.18.4.13

Osmia bicornis female.18.4.13

A new fixed bee hotel had been placed on the garden wall and attracted many more insects than the little, old one which hangs under the Lilac tree.  So the sunnier spot was probably the reason I was able to attract the O. bicornis for the first time.  In addition, every year I add more plants to provide pollen and nectar for the bees.

However, they fly very quickly and I was not pleased with the photographs and I am uncertain as to how to improve them.  The above photograph was taken at 1/1000 s. ISO 4000 and f 6.3.

Osmia bicornis and flies.16.4.13

Osmia bicornis and flies.16.4.13

Here I had tried ISO 320 and 1/500s. but with f 3.5, the depth of field is too short.

Hemaris fuciformis 7 May 13

Hemaris fuciformis 7 May 13

Here I have just succeeded in showing the wings of the Hummingbird Hawk Moth (wing beat frequency between 25-45 beats a second) that visits the garden by using 1/1250 s. ISO 2000, f9.  There always seems to be a play-of between quality, speed and depth of focus when the light is not strong.  I think a minimum of f9 is required but there is not always enough light to reduce the aperture sufficiently.

The highest speed my camera synchronises with flash is 1/125 s. I would love to hear if anyone has any ideas on how to improve on bee shots.

The bad news is that there were quite a lot of little flies hanging around while the O. bicornis were building their nests.  They just looked like fruit flies to me but I was suspicious never the less.  I now realise that it is very likely that these flies were Cacoxenus sp. which are parasites of Osmia.  I shall have to make a pooter (aspirator) before the next mason bee season and consider renewing the bamboos annually although this will not deal with the problem of the flies.

Andrena fulva in my blackcurrant flowers

Andrena fulva in my blackcurrant flowers

Andrena fulva female 25.4.13

Andrena fulva female 25.4.13

I spotted a female Andrena fulva female in my blackcurrant flowers on the 25 April 2013, exactly a day later than I had seen my first one the previous year.

25 April 2013

25 April 2013

I look forward to my blackcurrants flowering because I am sure to see this beautiful mining bee feeding from the nectar.

Andrena fulva on blackcurrant flower

I have never noticed the male who is harder to spot as he doesn’t sport the same brightly coloured coat but resembles more non de-script Andrenas.  He does have a pronounced tuft of white hair on his face so I will be on the look out for him this year.

These bees are spring flying bees and will feed on pear, cherry and apple blossom.  I have all of the latter trees in my garden and I watch and photograph the bees with a great interest in the spring but I have only seen the Andrena fulva on the blackcurrant flowers!  Again I will be watching even more carefully this year but they are not bees you could miss easily.

Andrena fulva female on blackcurrant flowers

Perhaps, she prefers the pollen or finds it in a more generous supply.

Andrena fulva female on blackcurrant flowers

She lets me get quite close up to photograph her as she is so involved in securing the nectar but in the end she gives me a warning wave of her leg  to indicate I’ve got quite close enough.

Andrena fulva May

I took this photograph in May, some of the bushes were still flowering and I felt sorry for this bee who had got a little wet.  Once my blackcurrants stop flowering my Andrena fulva desert me.

They are mining bees and could be tempted to nest in my “lawn” or the nearby bare areas as the sandy soil should suit them but although several types of mining bees that have taken up residence, I have not seen Andrena fulva nesting.

This is my first Andrena and my sixth bee identified.

Have you seen Andrena fulva on any fruit trees?

A bee un-making her nest.

A bee un-making her nest.

In my last post I showed the some of the photographs I had taken of Anthidium Manicatum but I did not mention that she nests in my garden.  To be completely honest, the first time I saw her survey my old bee hotel I thought she was a wasp and ignored her!  Now I am a year older and wiser and I have found out that she is also called the Wool carder bee in English or Abeilles cotonnières in French.  this is because she collects the fibres from plants with furry leaves like  the different varietes of Stachys.   I have  Lychnis coronaria (Silene coronaria) growing in the garden and huge plants of common Mullein (Verbascum thapsus) grow close by so there is no shortage of the basic raw materials for her nest.

I have seen delightful pictures of female Anthidiums bringing round bales of cotton for their nests but I have never seen them cropping the leaves, myself.

Anthidium nesting 11.8.13

Anthidium nesting 11.8.13

I did see that an Anthidium was building her nest in my old bee house under the lilac tree in the middle of August, so I tried to keep an eye on it.

29.9.13

29.9.13

I was rewarded on the 29 of August when I saw a female Anthidium fly into the bee hotel.

Anthidium at nest

She apparently was making her nest.

I was really excited to watch her build her nest!  She seemed to want to do some re-arranging first.

Anthidium with cotton ball

She had gripped a ball of the cotton material between her legs as I had seen before in photographs but in those photographs she was taking the cotton to her nest.  Here she was taking it out.

Anthidium at nest

After recklessly dropping the cotton she came back for more.

Anthidium at nest

She repeatedly returned and went deep into the hole to unearth more of the cotton.

Anthidium at nest

She heaved some of the materiel out with kicks from her back legs.

Anthidium at nest

Sometimes she baled it together and counterbalanced her weight against it to pull it out of the bamboo.  These are a sample of the photographs I took in sequence over a period of ten minutes and I marvelled at the quantity of cotton she was removing and I thought of the time and energy it must have taken her to gather it.

Intruder at Anthidium nest

Intruder at Anthidium nest

All of a sudden I was startled by a bright orange creature wriggling rapidly out of the Anthidium’s nest.

Intruder from Anthidium nest

I apologise for the poor pictures but I was already having difficulty with poor light as the nest is under a lilac tree and the creature was moving rapidly.  It was not alone and I briefly saw another one appear and then disappear.

Anthidium at nest

My sympathies are with the Anthidium who continued with her purge of the nest material.  I was not prepared for the deluge of nesting material, and as the cotton fell it was being dispersed by the wind.  I would have loved to have gathered the contents to find out just how much she had packed in.  It seemed an impossibly large volume to extract from the bamboo tube.

Unfortunately, it is an unfinished story as I do not know what these creatures were.  Were they parasites?  Were they chance visitors to the bee hotel?  Perhaps someone can help me here.

Anthidium at bee hotel

Earlier the same day I had seen an Anthidium exploring one of my new bee hotels so hopefully there will still be plently of Anthidiums in the garden this year.

I need to add a post script here.  It is now November 2017 but because of a kind comment my Anthidium has been identified as Anthidium septemspinosum and the larva as a species of Dermestidae or carpet beetle.  I can now see my bee has black legs whereas I have other Anthidium in the garden which have much more yellow on their legs so possibly manicatum.  I cannot do better than that as I cannot find a key to help identify the different types of Anthidium.  Perhaps the French names Anthidie à manchettes should have alerted me to their legs.

26-6-2013-anthidium

I took this photo of a male in 2013 and the yellow colouration can be seen under the lovely down he has on his legs.

A stripey summer bee, Anthidium manicatum

A stripey summer bee, Anthidium manicatum

Anthidium manicatum male on sedum

Anthidium manicatum male

I see a lot of Anthidium manicatum in the garden in the summer.  Like most bees it is a question of what flowers you grow.  I have several large clumps of nepeta, lots of lavender and different sedum.  There is a large clump of nepeta in a sunny spot in the back garden with a sedum right beside it.  Paradise for the Anthidiums!

Anthidium manicatum male on sedum

Anthidium manicatum male on sedum

The males can be recognised by the shape of the five prongs at the end of their abdomen.

Male Anthidium manicatum

It is not always easy to see the prongs when they are at rest on flowers.  You can see four in the photograph above and have to imagine the fifth on the other side.  The curve of the rear three prongs is also diagnostic.

Anthidium manicatum male head

Anthidium manicatum male head

I would also like to add that no bees were injured to deliver these close-ups and he was shortly patrolling the Nepeta after his photo session.

Anthidium manicatum male side view

Anthidium manicatum male side view

In this photograph my bee is posing with his middle leg forward to show off another particularity of the Anthidium bees.  Bees have a claw at the end of their legs with a little appendix or arolium in the centre of it.  Anthidium have no arolium on their claw – just a 2-pronged claw!

Anthidium manicatum male head

Anthidium manicatum male head

Well I think he is cute.

Anthidium manicatum female on Nepeta

Anthidium manicatum female on Nepeta

The female also has a yellow face but the shape is different.  I was photographing this one when – bang – a male arrived.

Anthidium manicatum mating

Anthidium manicatum mating 26.6.13

No courtship, no preambles, in fact, no choice.  Some male bees can be considerably smaller than the females but the Anthidium males are larger than the females so it is a case of brute force.

Anthidium manicatum mating in lavender

Anthidium manicatum mating in lavender 19.7.13

I was enjoying watching the Anthidium and the Anthophora in the lavender in July and every now and again there was the – bang.  The female Anthidiums were very long suffering and seemed to ignore the males.

Anthidium manicatum on yellow flower 9.8.13

Anthidium manicatum on yellow flower in garden 9.8.13

The male Anthidiums have a bad reputation for being aggressive towards other bees and even wasps and are seemingly capable of tearing their wings with the sharp prongs on the end of their abdomen.

I have not seen this aggression as they share the Nepeta and other flowers with lots of other insects.  Maybe the ones in the Charente Maritime are more laid back – it would not surprise me, it is that sort of place.

Female Anthidium Manicatum on camera 14.7.13

Female Anthidium Manicatum on camera 14.7.13

As I said, I have never found them aggressive.

Female Anthidium manicatum examining camera lens

Female Anthidium manicatum examining camera lens

Inquisitive, perhaps.

Anthidium manicatum on finger

Touchy-feely?

Anthidium manicatum, femalePersistent

Anthidium manicatum on neck

But sweet!

My fifth bee identification ends with a bee kiss.

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One bee leads to another…

One bee leads to another…

At the end of my last post I asked if anyone thought Colletes bees might nest in bee hotels.  The idea seemed improbable as they are called mining bees because they are subterranean nesters.  However, I knew Colletes bees lined their underground cells with a waterproof cellophane-like substance.

Cellophane plug 19.8.13

Cellophane plug 19.8.13

In August I noticed that one of the holes in the bee hotel had been plugged and the surface had a glassy, shiny appearance.  I was not able to take a better photograph as the substance was reflective.

19.8.13.coating on wood

19.8.13.coating on wood

Just under the hole a thin membrane, like a cellophane paper, was adhering to the rough wood.

I was encouraged by Susan (http://daysontheclaise.blogspot.fr/) to enquire on a forum.  I was very reticent as I have never asked on a bee forum before so I posed my query on apoidea-gallica.

I received a quick response with a link to a photograph of another shiny plugged hole on Flikr and the suggestions that it could have been filled by a bee in the Genus Hylaeus.

My “Bees of Surrey” by David Baldock tells me that Hylaeus “nest mainly in dead stems (especially brambles) but also in crevices such as holes in wood, stones or walls.  The cells are made in a line and are waterproofed by a cellophane-like material.)  This seems a likely explanation for my mystery plug.

Astrantia and black bee

Astrantia and black bee 21.9.14

In addition, I had a photograph of an unidentified black bee on my Astrantia in September.

Black bee on Astrantia 21.9.14

Black bee on Astrantia 21.9.14

The photographs are not good enough to positively identify the bee but I’ve learnt a lot from the shiny plug in the bee hotel and I am going to be on the lookout for Hylaeus bees this summer.

Colletes cunicularis, a mining bee

Colletes cunicularis, a mining bee

I am continuing my winter identification of the bees I have seen last year.  This will be the fifth bee I have identified.

Nest 10.3.13

Nest 10.3.13

I first saw the nest near one of the apple trees and I marked it with a stick so that I could keep an eye on it.

10.3.13

10.3.13

I was rewarded later when I caught site of a bee heavily laden with pollen.

10.3.13

10.3.13

These photographs are taken without  a Macro lens.

Droplet.10.3.13

Droplet.10.3.13

When the photographs are enlarged I could notice a droplet at the far end of her abdomen but the quality of the photograph is poor.

 20.3.13

20.3.13

I tried to check it as often as I could but although it remained open, I had no more luck in seeing my bee.

31.3.13

31.3.13

Then on 31 March when I looked into the hole it looked darker.

Eye appears.31.3.13

Eye appears.31.3.13

As I watched an eye appeared.

Hole enlarging

Hole enlarging

She appeared to be enlarging…

and enlarging

and enlarging

and enlarging the hole.

Emerging

Emerging

I became braver and tried to get a little closer as she seemed so absorbed in her work.

Densely pitted clypeus

Densely pitted clypeus

I had now bought my Macro lens and was able to get a better shot.

S shape on wing vein

S shape on wing vein

Colletes is the only genera with S-shaped second recurrent vein on the forewing so later I was able to identify the genus.

Approaching the surface

Approaching the surface

I watched her for 37 minutes, taking quite a few photographs.

Closed hole

Closed hole

It wasn’t until near the end that I realised she was, in fact, closing her hole.  Satisfied her work was complete, she flew away.

I kept watch on the hole but it was never disturbed and gradually disappeared under the vegetation that constitutes our lawn.

We have willows or I believe sallows (Salix caprea) that were flowering from the beginning of March last year and also a very large plum tree that started to flower mid March so I think she would have not have had to fly far for pollen.

The droplet on her rear abdomen intrigues me as the Colletes produce a cellophane-like material to line their nests and I wonder if this could ooze onto her abdomen.

 19.8.13

19.8.13

Another intrigue!  I found this layer of cellophane-like material adhering to the outside of a bee hotel in my front garden in August.

Cellophane hole 19.8.13

Cellophane hole 19.8.13

Close by a single hole had been sealed by what looked like the same material.  The photograph is poor as the surface was reflective and I was not able to show the shininess of the surface in my photographs.

Do any Colletes species nest in holes in wood?  Does another bee use this material to fill its holes?  I’d love to find out.

I’ll be keeping my eye on my bee hotel and also on the area that my Colletes has built her nest.  My sandy soil and willows might attract even more Colletes to nest in the garden.