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.

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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.