Four firsts in a day

Four firsts in a day

1-Bumble pollen

Today (21.2.14) I saw the first bumble bee in my plum tree with a very healthy looking pollen load.  I’ve been seeing lots of queens throughout the winter but none were gathering pollen.  This one has decided its time to start making use of the abundant blossom pollen that is around and start building a nest.

1-Bee parasitised

The next first is not so nice so don’t look at the next two photographs if you are of a sensitive disposition.  I noticed a tiny mining bee making a hole in the ground beside the stem of a daisy in the grass.

1-bee wounded

It was not until I had looked at the photographs on the computer that I realised that there was a gaping hole in its abdomen.  I suppose a parasite has made a meal out part of the bee and it will not survive for much longer.

1-New bee hole

Passing on, I was surprised to notice several new heaps of soil underneath the plum tree which means that the first mining bees are emerging.  It seems very early and I am not quite as far on as I had hoped in my reading.  Last year there were two types of mining bee under the plum tree that I saw.  I watched the holes as much as I could but I saw no bees coming and going.

Bombus lapidarius

And fourthly, I saw my first Bombus lapidarius of the year.  She was looking still very groggy from her winter hibernation and was walking around in the grass.

Bombus lapidarius

In fact, I was getting a bit concerned for her well being and I tried to give her some sugar and water and I put her on a sunny stone step to warm up.  She ignored the sugar and water but enjoyed the sunshine and finally lifted off with the grace of a vertical take-off jet.

According to F.W.L. Sladen the only species I could confuse her with is Bombus ruderarius which although much rarer is very similar but has red hairs around the corbicula or pollen basket.

Corbicular hairs

While she was sunbathing I got a good picture of her hind legs and the black hair, so I am satisfied she is Bombus lapidarius, or the red-tailed bumblebee.

5.4.2012

5.4.2012

Like all the bumblebees she loves our Wisteria.

Red tailed male

Red tailed male

This photograph is from August last year and shows the male.  He has yellow hair on his face and a yellow band in front of the black thorax.

2.4.13

2.4.13

I like bees and I’d like to think the feeling is mutual.

 

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It’s in black and white

It’s in black and white

Andrena cineraria

Andrena cineraria is – I quote from BWARS –  “a  very distinctively marked ground-nesting bee”.  Yes! It looks like a bee that is easy to identify.

Adrena cineraria

Here she is having a pollen frenzy in a dandelion.  She has also a common name – the Ashy Mining Bee.  I find her very attractive with her ruff of white hair behind her head and a second white band at the rear of her thorax.

Andrena cineraria

I am particularly fond of her because one day at the end of last March I saw her land on the ground when I was under the large plum tree in my back garden.

Andrena cineraria disappears into ground

Then she promptly disappeared into the ground.  Under the plum tree the grass is not usually very thick at this early time of year and there are quite a few bare patches.  However, it was difficult to see where she had gone.  So I had to sit and watch quietly for any movement.Andrena cineraria in nest

Sometimes its only some soil moving and a black antenna appearing.

Andrena cineraria in nest

Then a whole head might appear.  I did get the impression they could see me but maybe that is a bit paranoid.  Certainly any movement and she would disappear back down the hole.  I would love to show you a series of photographs as she finally emerges and takes flight but her exit is remarkably rapid and quite impossible for me to capture.

Andrena cineraria female head

She is quite a fluffy bee and has more white hairs on her face that I can see when I get close enough to take a photograph.

I cannot be sure how many nests there were under the plum tree, I would guess at least six which is not a large nesting site for these bees.  As the season advanced more grass grew over the bare patches and obscured the nest entrances making clear observation impracticable.

The Andrena cineraria were not the only mining bees to have chosen this site, they shared the site with another Andrena but that’s another story.

Abeille à culottes

Abeille à culottes

17.7.13

17.7.13

I took this picture in our garden last July. In French this bee is called “l’abeille à culottes“, a lovely name for a beautiful bee.  The garden was a favourite place for gathering pollen last summer.

Cat's-ears and Hawkbits

As you see we have more than grass in the back garden.  These are Cats ears or Hawkbits but I think it is better just to call them weeds but to be more exact they fit into the Asteraceae family.  The abeille aux culottes gathers pollen for her nest from these flowers and other Asteraceae, usually yellow ones, like dandelions.  The whole area was in constant movement as the bees sat on a flower head making it dip and then bounce back as it flew to another flower.  This ten second video clip gives you a better idea of what I mean http://youtu.be/758iIZimddQ

17.7.13

17.7.13

Her silky hind legs are beautiful and can carry large loads of pollen to her nest.  She is a mining bee but I have never been able to find her nesting in the garden – not yet.

Dasypoda

I think she has a cute face too!

Mown lawn

It poses problems cutting the grass but we cannot take all her flowers away so we have to leave enough islands of weeds to provide her with pollen.

17.7.13

17.7.13

If I had taken this picture in the U.K. I would have no hesitation in identifying her as Dasypoda hirtipes.  She is a pretty remarkable looking bee and would be difficult to mistake her for any other.  She has also had the decency to be feeding on a yellow Asteraceae which is her main source of pollen, being rarely seen feeding on other flowers.

30.9.12

30.9.12

However, I was reviewing my photographs and I noticed that I had some photographs taken a year earlier not far from the house.

13.9.12

13.9.12

Then I noticed that this one had green eyes.

12.8.13

12.8.13

Then, in August I had seen another Dasypoda, which I saw as different straight away as she had white hairs on her rear legs and she was feeding on common knapweed (Centaurea cyanus) which although not yellow still belongs to the Asteraceae family.

12.8.13

12.8.13

In addition, she has green eyes.

Yes, in France they have more than one species of Dasypoda.  I’m pretty sure my garden Dasypoda are hirtipes but the others could be argentata or albimana or yet another species.  Indeed, the bee on the Centaurea has been identified as Tetralonia dentata (see comment below.)

I have been warned that unless you are an expert and prepared with the necessary information and at least a magnifying glass you cannot pronounce on the species of a bee.  However, I thought that there must be some common but remarkable bees that you could not go wrong with.

It is discouraging when you have such a low chance of identifying the bee correctly.  I think I will have to change my tactic from now on and identify to genera only and try to identify the likely contenders because of the season, locality and flower choice.  Here that might mean quite a few bees.