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?


The bees in February

The bees in February


This winter has been mild with just one spell of exceptionally cold weather.  The overnight temperatures dropped to sub-zero even down to minus eight degrees centigrade, but that all finished a week ago only to be replaced by exceptionally warm, sunny weather with highs of plus eighteen and mild overnight temperatures!

The quick seesaw of temperatures has not disturbed our honey bees who are as active as ever gathering pollen and nectar.  I like to try and guess where the pollen comes from by its colour.  The above photograph does not show a darker more red pollen that is somewhat rarer.


The pale cream pollen might come from the Viburnum tinus as there is a large bush not far from the hives that is in flower now.


However, judging on noise level the Hellebores in the garden are preferred over the V. tinus and the pale pollen could be theirs.


I’ve no doubt that the majority of the pale yellow comes from the winter flowering honeysuckle.  I now have three bushes in the garden and the largest is very close to the hives.

The darker red yellow I would guess comes from the abundant gorse around the garden and some dark yellow from the Lamium.


The small flowers of Veronica (I think persica) have opened all over the garden and surrounding fields in the past few days.  Some fields are covered by a blue haze of these flowers.  Although tiny, they provide both nectar and white pollen to honey bees from what I have observed.


It is not only the honey bees that are attracted to the Veronica.


I did not expect to see any solitary bees (with the exception of bumble bees) in the middle of February but this one is getting off to an early start.


The appearance of the Syrphid flies is not so unexpected as there are plenty of Lesser Cellandine (Ficaria verna) around but I rarely see bees on the Cellandine.


We try to provide different sources of water for the bees.  This mossy stone is a favourite place for them.


Once the sun hits the stone warming up the damp moss there will be five or six bees sunning themselves and taking water.


What surprises me more is the number of bees on the ground taking water off leaves.  They are particularly partial to these leaves.  Perhaps the humidity pools in convenient sized droplets or perhaps they are taking in more than just water from the surface of the leaves.


Yesterday I saw Bombus pratorum queens for the first time.  There were three or four in the large winter honeysuckle bush.  They move much more rapidly than the ponderous Bombus terrestris queens that fly all the winter in the good days.  All were stocking up on nectar but I have not seen any of the bumble bees gathering pollen yet.


The carpenters (Xylocopa violacea) have returned in earnest this past week and join the melee in the honeysuckle.  In the melee I am sure I saw an Osmia cornuta.  The red body is difficult to miss but it was soon gone and I was unable to take a photograph.


Stop Press!  I have just seen a Bombus lapidarius today but she seemed badly infected by mites.


Close up the mites resemble ticks.  They have taken hold in the softer, less protected folds of her body and do not look at all comfortable.  Some of the mites which infect solitary bees live on the cell debris of the nest and have little effect on the life of the bees but I am not so sure about these ones.


The bee season is off to an early start in the garden.



A very early bee

A very early bee

Andrena 26.1.2016

We were out walking on Tuesday 26 January 2016, it was nearly five o’clock in the afternoon and I had not bothered to take my camera along.  Nevertheless, I can’t help keeping my eyes on dandelions, checking for bumble bees, but instead I spotted a solitary bee: an Andrena on a dandelion.  My husband came to my rescue and took a photograph for me.

I think it is an Andrena haemorrhoa – its common name being the Early Mining Bee but by early in the U.K. they mean you can see it usually starting in March.  I felt rather sorry for it as it was not moving but sheltering in the dandelion for warmth.

The exceptionally mild weather with temperatures peaking up to seventeen degrees centigrade with sunshine has obviously woken some wild bees from their winter dormancy.  Luckily the flowers are being fooled too but I hope she has enough strength to make it back to her tunnel.

La bourgade

La bourgade

Last week I saw the Ivy bee Colletes hederae foraging in the ivy.  It is a beautiful bee and special, as it arrives as the ivy flowers.  It was thought that it only uses ivy pollen to put down as food for its young but research has shown that it can use other sources of pollen.  It nests often in large colonies and BWARS tells us that C. hederae often occurs in large nesting concentrations in soft, crumbly banks and cliffs.


We were out walking not far from home and I was trying to think of places nearby that might provide suitable nesting places when I nearly stood on one!

It was an amazing site.  For one thing the noise alerted me (I am quite well-tuned in for listening out for buzzing) but the number of bees brought me to a standstill.  My husband has now paced the nesting place and it is approximately 15 metres by 2 metres.  Some of the nests went into the green area too.


This is a candid portrait taken be a bored husband as I spent a long time photographing and observing the bees.  The one thing I cannot share is the activity that was going on.  I prefer the name used in French – bourgade (literally little village) – as nesting place just does not convey the movement, the activity, the dramas being played out at your feet.

Males search

The noise makers were the males.  Swarms of them searching for a female.

Group of males

They are constantly in motion and seem to observe the other males, worried that they might spot a female first.

Shove off

It’s a frenzied search with the male bees descending into the holes from time to time just to see if a female is there.  Sometimes patience frays and there will be some pushing and head butting but the whole searching has a very random appearance.

Where did I make my hole

I saw one female who could not find her hole and was searching around.

He's behind you

I was surprised she did not find it immediately but it could have got covered in leaves while she was gathering pollen.

Attack 1

Then bang!

Attack 2

I had more sympathy for her.

Attack 3

With all the male bees around she had to get to that nest quickly but she was too slow this time.  I presume she had already mated at least once and this would be losing good egg laying and pollen gathering time.  She was not interested in mating and wanted to get back to looking for her hole.

Down hole

The other females I saw were quicker off their mark to find their nests.

Female emerging

This female left her nest swiftly leaving a hopeful male standing.

Viewing them head on, the females have a darker face, without the attractive tawny tufts of the males.

I have kept my eyes open in the hope of finding other bourgades but this is the only one I have found.  At least next year I should be off to a good start as I can re-visit this one and who knows?  I may find another one if I start looking a bit earlier.



The Tetralonia are back!

The Tetralonia are back!

Tetralonia taking nectar

The Hollyhocks are doing well in the garden and with the sunshine I have found the Tetralonia returning to the Hollyhocks.

Head Tetralonia in  Hollyhock

I am ever grateful to a commentator, el. gritchie, who pointed me in the right direction when I was totally unaware of this genera.

Tetralonia ready for the night

I love checking out the hollyhocks in the evening as there are always Tetralonia bedded down from the night.  Hollyhocks are Alcea, part of the mallow family Malvaceae.  This would point to an identification of Tetralonia malvae for these bees.  However, I can find out very little information about them and so I could easily confuse them with other species in this genera.

Head tetralonia

I took the opportunity to pop this poor unsuspecting bee into a plastic pot after it had settled down for the night in one of my hollyhocks.  After a little while in my fridge he was even sleeper and I managed to take some posed photographs.

Rear Tetralonia

Unfortunately, I am really none the wiser at the moment but I now have some photographs for future comparison.  He was then placed back in the same Hollyhock.  I have noticed they can return to the same flowerlet on subsequent nights.  The hollyhocks provide good protection from the elements during the night and I suppose there is a fresh supply of nectar ready in the morning.

Tetralonia in Althaea officinalis

I have another beautiful plant in the garden that also grows in the woods nearby.  It is Althaea officinalis, that is Guimauve or Marsh Mallow also from the family Malvaceae.

Tetralonia in Guimauve

The marshmallow pink colour of the Guimauve pollen makes the female Tetralonia even more spectacular.

Some Megachiles

Some Megachiles

1-Megachile arches

Megachiles collect their pollen on brushes under their abdomen.  The colour of these hairs can often be used to help identify the species.

1-Pollen brush

But as with anything else used in identifying bees – it has its limits.  The underside of the bee can look the same colour as the pollen when it is heavily loaded.

1-Megachile brings back lots of pollen 29.8

That’s a good load of pollen!

1-Megachile chews leaf into size

They are commonly know as leaf cutter bees as they choose already existing holes and line them with leaves to lay their eggs with a pollen and nectar store before sealing the cell with more leaves.  They choose leaves that can be manipulated easily from trees such as lilac, ash or cherry or flower leaves such as roses or even rose, poppy or geranium petals.

5 September 2013

5 September 2013

You can see her determination to fit this piece where she wants it.  This shot was taken in my home-made bee hotel and I recommend trying one out as they are fascinating bees to watch.

1-IMG_3261..asleep.26.8.13..9.49 a.m.

This one was a late riser.  Perhaps she had had a busy building job the previous day.  It was 9.49 a.m. on the 26 August 2013 and she was still asleep with the last leaf she had brought home acting as a blanket.

1-Megachile Rose petals 4.9

On the 4 September 2013 one of the bees finished off their nest with rose petals – class!

1-IMG_4538. Megachile centuncularis

I’m going to go for a photographic ID (i.e. not an expert one) and say that this is Megachile centuncularis on my dahlia at the beginning of October 2013.  These are the bees I believe are nesting in my bee hotels.  In addition, the wing venation checks out with the images I’ve seen.

1-Tiny black Megachile.12.8

But there are other bees that look like Megachile around, like this tiny black one on Centaurea nigra in early August.

1-Birds's Foot Trefoil.25.6

And this one with green eyes on Bird’s Foot Trefoil in late June (I think probably, Megachile leachella).  Although these last two may be tricking me with their ventral pollen brushes as Osmia and Lithurgus bees have ventral pollen brushes too.

1-Megachile close

But I’m as satisfied as I can be that she is Megachile centuncularis.


Looking at Halictus mating

Looking at Halictus mating

H. sextincus mating.female

I see a lot of Halictus bees around.  The females have a slit at the rear of their abdomen but this feature is shared with Lassioglossoms so it is not definitive, but it helps.  They often have white hair bands on their abdomen.  They often nest in aggregations and I see lots of signs of bees nesting in the sandy/chalky soil of this area.

Halictid on Hibiscus syriacus

I see them on a lot of the flowers in the garden.  Here the bee is on Hibiscus syriacus, this is in the Malvaceae family, at the end of September 2013.

Halictus on Centaurea nigra

Here on Centaurea nigra (common knapweed) in the Asteraceae again towards the end of September 2013.

Halictus on Rudbeckia

And again on the Rudbeckia (Asteraceae) at the beginning of October 2013.

Halictus on Heptacodium jasminoides

But here on the Heptacodium jasminoides (Caprifoliaceae or honeysuckle family), the male Halictus sexcinctus displays his two-tone antenna which end in a  hook shape.  This separates him out from the other Halictes I see in the garden.

H. sextincus mating

I was trying to take a photograph of the female on a Dahlia at the end of August last year when the male rapidly descended on her.

H. sextincus mating

This shows a good view of the male’s face.

H. sextincus female

The female was little concerned with the male’s interest.  She appeared more interested in gathering nectar but you can see the pollen hairs on the hind femur and tibia full of pollen.  You will also notice I have a problem with snails eating my dahlias.

H. sextincus mating

This picture gives an idea of the difference in size as the heads are one above the other.  The male’s head is smaller and his body longer and finer than the female.

I watched them for six minutes.  The male did not relax his attention and the female did not appear any more interested during this period but the action was rapid, too rapid to deduce whether he was successful or not.

My identification of Halictus sexcinctus takes me up to fourteen in the twenty I’ve challenged myself to identify.  My problem is that I have been too slow at sorting out last years pictures before I am being overtaken by lots of lovely interesting bees appearing in the garden.

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.



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.



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


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



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



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.


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.



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.



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



Then I noticed that this one had green eyes.



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.



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.