A good spring for Osmia cornuta

A good spring for Osmia cornuta

My bee houses have been rewarding me with lots of activity from the Osmia cornuta in the past weeks.  I’m sure they don’t need any help to find hollow nesting places but when they choose my hollow bamboo canes or drilled-out wood I have the pleasure of watching their antics.

The first I know that some bees have hatched is the frantic activity of the males.  This 17 second video gives you an idea of what it looks like.

I admire the tenacity of the males who guard the holes against all comers.  You can get the idea in this 16 second video.

The male can be easily recognised by the little tuft of white hair on his head.  They are around several weeks before the females eventually hatch and then the excitement really mounts.

The mating is not an elegant affair and this pair managed to get stuck in the tube in a sort of impasse where neither was prepared to cede defeat.

I noticed this mating pair under the box and I was surprised by the females stoic non-resistance.  That was until I saw the photograph on the computer and noticed that the male had a firm grip on her wings and back legs.

The male eventually decided to dismount and release her.

The female is a very attractive bee and is larger than the male, which is not uncommon in bees.  She lays her eggs in hollow stems or crevices and supplies the future larvae with pollen for nourishment.  She pushes the pollen firmly in place with the help of two little horns on her head.

The horns are under the antennae and as the horns are black they are difficult to see amongst the black hairs of her head.  They are best seen in a photograph.

Once the females have emerged they begin their frantic search for the perfect hole.  Despite the abundance of choice from our point of view the females have a need to explore.

Eventually one will meet her high requirements and the egg laying and pollen collection will begin.

Pollen collecting is a serious business even if putting it in place can get a bit messy.

In praise of Hebe

In praise of Hebe

IMG_0980

I bought my white Hebe for 10 euros 25 in March 2014 to provide ground cover for a difficult dry, sunny patch in my front garden.

Honey bee

It has been money well spent as it flowered in the first year and is flowering again just now.

Fast bee

The honey bees make straight for it.  It is called véronique arbustive in French which sounds a much more charming name for such a beautiful plant.  It belongs to the Scrophulariaceae family of plants which contains many plants that the bees and other insects love for their high nectar content.

Bigger black bee

But it is not only the honey bees that are attracted to it.

Tiny black bee 2

There are lots of wild solitary bees that love it too.  Compare the sizes of the bees in the last two photographs with the size of the flowers.

Tiny black bee

These little black bees are so tiny that I’m sure some people must mistake them for flies.

Bee fly

It does attract the bee flies too.  This one is a particularly good bumble bee mimic and even buzzes like a bee.  They are, however, parasitic on solitary bees.  Their eggs need to hatch in the nest of a bee or other insect so that the larvae can feed on the larval stages of the host insect.

Shiny Halictes

This bee is particularly attractive as it is a shiny gold colour.  The little slit at the rear of the abdomen shows that it is in the family of Halictidae but I can’t go closer than that.

Peacock butterfly

Peacock butterfly (Inachis io)

The butterflies come for the nectar, too.

Lycaena top

This one is a copper.

Lycaena underside

Perhaps the Sooty Copper (Lycaena tityrus).

Yellow pollen

The honey bees don’t seem to bother with collecting the pollen from the flowers although I think the little bees are more patient and collect a cream pollen but the bee above has been visiting somewhere else to have collected all that yellow pollen.

Bumble on Dahlia

Strangely, I see very few bumble bees on the Hebe.  They much prefer the Dahlias that are growing all around it.

So, if you are looking for a plant that doesn’t cost a lot, provides lots of entertainment by attracting bees and butterflies and is easy to care for – I think Hebe ticks all the boxes.

 

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.

A Megachile emerges

A Megachile emerges

1-Rose meg 4.9.13 19-57 (2)

On the fourth of September last year I noticed a hole in my bee hotel had been beautifully sealed by carefully arranged sections of rose petals. (See Some Megachile).

1-1 Rose petal hole_0527

On the 24 of May this year I noticed a hole had been chewed in the centre of it.

1-2 24.5.14 1920_0532

I could not resist removing the remains of the rose petals to get a better look.  A new little bee was making her way into the world.  However, it was 19.20 and domestic duties called and the light was fading for photographs.

1-3 Rose hole 25.5.14 11.04_0536

It was 11.04 the next morning before I was able to get back to my bee and she seemed just to be waking up.

1-4 25.5.14.11.11_0542

Seven minutes later and she was not  making an enormous progress.

1-5 25.5.14.11-13_0543

Then two minutes later there is movement from the hole above her.

1-8 other further out 11.26_0568

Now which one should I focus on?  The other one is larger and not the same species.  Very interesting but I do not want to lose my rose petal bee.

1-9 other out 11-26_0569

After a couple of minutes hesitation the big bee launches itself into the air.  Sorry about the blur but it was the best I could do.  I have no idea what species it was.

1-10 At edge 11-38_0586

Back to my rose bee that has been emerging gradually for the last  34 minutes.  She seemed to have a considerable difficulty pulling herself through the little hole she had chewed in her leaf capsule that had been her home since last September.

1-11 On outside 11-39_0596

Finally after watching and taking photographs of her for 35 minutes she emerges onto the outside of the log.

1-12 Going 11-39_0600

She paused momentarily before taking off.   After this first one, many others emerged from the same hole in the following few days, usually taking less time to exit than this first one.  Sometimes it looked as if the bee next in the queue was giving encouragement from behind because as one took off, another little head appeared at the hole.

However, I am not certain what species of leaf cutting bee she is.  Megachile centuncularis are well known for their use of rose petals which points me in this direction.  It is a common bee and I have seen bees looking like Megachile centuncularis on the bee box last year.

1-13 26.8.13 Mummy head

Could this be Mummy emerging from another hole in the log on the 26 August last year?

1-14 26.8.13 Mummy (2)

I base my identification of the bees I saw filling the holes last August on Steven Falk’s wonderful photographs and information

Megachile centuncularis female - Cross Hands Quarry, Warwickshire 2010a

, he says females can be distinguished from some other British species by the bright orange pollen brush that remains orange haired to its tip (black-haired at tip in some others).

Well, even if I cannot be 100 percent sure of my French bees at least I can say I breed beautiful bees!

 

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.

 

Under the plum tree again

Under the plum tree again

It was half past six in the evening and we had just returned from a walk when we decided to have a last look at the back garden.  Passing the plum tree we could see some bee activity where the Andrena flavipes is nesting.  I was wondering if she would come back!

13 April 2014

13 March 2014

I’ve already posted about Andrena cineraria in my post It’s in black and white and I took those pictures in the middle of April last year.

I saw several flying low around the grass and one quickly popped down a hole and once inside closed it over by moving the crumbly soil from the sides of the pile over the entrance.  A bit like closing the bedroom curtains in the evening.

Andrena cineraria male 13.3.14

I followed one patiently who seemed to be having difficulty finding the hole.

Andrena cineraria male 13.3.14

Now it becomes clearer.  This is the male Andrena cineraria.  He was still on the search for an unmated female.  The female only mates once and then becomes unreceptive and goes about nest building and egg laying.  The male’s function is to find a female and mate, not for him the task of burrowing tunnels.

Andrena cineraria male 13.3.14

This side shot shows up the difference between the male and the female.  The male is only very slightly smaller than the female but has more white hair.  There are white hairs present on his thorax and tufts of white hair at the top of his femurs.  He has larger tuft of white hair on his head than the female.

This is the first time I have seen the Andrena cineraria male.  I thought the female was beautiful but I think he might be even cuter.

Andrena under the plum tree

Andrena under the plum tree

I first noticed little mounds of soil under the plum tree in March 2013 and I saw my first mining bee pop its head out and look me in the eye (or so I thought it did!)

I was determined to photograph them and spent quite a bit of time on warmer days crouching under the plum tree watching them.  I did not have a Macro lens then so the photographs were not detailed.  However, it is very pleasant under the plum tree when it is in full flower with the sun shining and the bitter almond perfume of the flowers drifting around you.  I was not able to identify the bees last year, I could not even be sure what genera they belonged to – but I was hooked and I knew where to look for them this year when I was going to be more prepared to identify them.

24.2.14

24.2.14

The weather has been so mild (but very rainy) that when I looked on the first sunny day for ages, on the 23 February, I was surprised to see that the nests had started to appear.  The next day I saw my first bee emerge.

Andrena

Yes, it was the same bee.

Andrena

She left the nest too quickly to get a really good photograph but it was much better than last year – and I was very pleased to see the bees had survived in the sodden ground.  Mining bees usually prefer dry, soft soil.  Some like sandy sites or chalky soil or nice sunny banks to nest in.  The soil under my plum tree would never usually be very wet as my garden soil drains rapidly, probably as the region is based on limestone rock.  This year we have had unprecedented rain and many areas have flooded – happily not under my plum tree!

1-IMG_9411.wing venation

Two days later I was able to get some pictures from above that gave me a clear image of her fore wings.  The wings have three sub marginal cells and the lower border of the third one is longer than the middle one (sorry the red lines are very fine)  In addition, the basal vein meets the longitudinal vein at an acute angle (see better red arrow).  Also, the vein pattern is the same as a photograph of Andrena flavipes in “Bees of Surrey” by David W. Baldock.  So I am satisfied that it is an Andrena.

26.2.14

26.2.14

I don’t know what she has been doing as she seems to have something sticky on her foreleg.

Andrena

She was taking time to groom herself which gave me time to get some photographs.

Yellow pollen

I didn’t see her on any flowers and I wondered if she had gathered pollen from the plum tree above us.  The photograph above shows a bumble bee gathering the plum pollen that seems to match but the Sallow (Salix caprea) at the bottom of the garden is also providing the same colour of pollen.  So it is hard to say at the moment what she is using.

7.3.2013

7.3.2013

I haven’t seen any parasitic bees this year but last year I saw what I think is Nomada fucata. This further convinces me that my mining bees are Andrena flavipes as these are parasitised by Nomada fucata.

Andrena on hand

She is a very sweet bee and hopefully I will be out there watching her in another day or two as the rain is forecast to stop and we are even promised some sunshine!