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.



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.