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.

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Birth of a fly

Birth of a fly

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These photographs date back to 31 May 2014.  May is a very busy month in the bee hotels.  The bee hotels are much busier than I had ever suspected.

On 24 May three different species of bee were emerging at the same time so it was difficult to concentrate on what to focus on.  The bees emerge daily and I visit with my camera in hand.

On the 31st I saw something starting to emerge.  It looked different but I was hoping for yet another bee species.  Then I thought perhaps a solitary wasp but I think what I have here is a parasitic fly, perhaps a Leucophora species.

I have seen what I think are Cacoxenus indagator , with their red eyes, around the hotels in the past but these are tiny fruit fly sized creatures.  The hole that can be seen in the photograph of the fly has a diameter of 7-8 milimetres, which makes the fly coming up to 2 cm. long

Fly

Unfortunately, I saw a similar for the second time on 28 September 2014.  It was examining my newest bee hotel.  Because I had put it up so late in the season only Anthidium manicatum has nested here.  This sort of bee hotel can be opened so it is something I can look out for when I open it.

Any information anyone has on these flies would be greatly appreciated.

 

 

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.

Bourgade

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.

Photographer

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.

 

 

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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