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.

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.

Anthophora furcata nests in my bee hotels

Anthophora furcata nests in my bee hotels

When I first started putting up bee hotels in the garden I so much hoped that I could attract some of the Osmia species to come and nest in them.  I knew that putting up the nests was one thing but it was the bees that did the choosing where to nest.

Well, it hasn’t been quite what I expected.  I have been so overwhelmed with the uptake of these man-made sites because I have had so many different species of bees nesting in them.   In addition, solitary wasps and parasitic flies have used them too.  So identification is quite a problem.

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I really was not expecting such an array of bees to nest in the bee hotels and it is difficult to identify them.  I have not read about Anthophora nesting in bee hotels although over a year ago I was sure I saw Anthophora plumipes using one of the drilled logs in the early spring time.

Anthophora furcata

I reluctantly decided to capture her leaving her nest in September.  She is getting old and her wings are tattered but the three submarginal cells are clearly seen.  Working through ID keys she has a round head with inner margins of her eyes more or less parallel.  The basal vein is more or less straight and she is about 1.5 cm.  The lower borders of the second and third submarginal cells are more or less equal.  She has black legs with scopa on her hind legs – so I have reached the identification of Anthophora!

Anthophora furcata beside ruler

Here she is getting measured approximately beside a ruler.

Anthophora furcata

Following a further key for Anthophora I note that she has an entirely black face.

Anthophora furcata last tergite

Then bingo!  The last tergite is red orange!  I wish all bees had a little special something that made their identification clearer.  Another name for this bee is the fork-tailed flower bee.

For some excellent photographs and some more information check out Steven Falk’s excellent site.

I would not say that my Anthophora furcata is smaller than the Anthophora plumipes I see here.

Another point of interest is that A. furcata is in the subgenus Clisodon.  The charactristic of this subgenus being that the female has a tridentate mandible which could be associated with nesting in rotting wood.  The other member of this subgenus A.terminalis readily nests in pithy stems.  I think the A. furcata around me are not averse to nesting in the stems of the bee hotel but they do seem to prefer the drilled wooden holes which they continue to excavate and clear out.


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


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.



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.


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


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 - Ouaisne Common, Jersey 2014b

, 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!


Andrena agilissima, a bee that likes cabbage flowers

Andrena agilissima, a bee that likes cabbage flowers

Male Andrena agilissima

A slightly inaccurate title;  Andrena agilissima is an oligolectic bee gathering pollen from brassicacaea species.

I let my salad leaves left over from the autumn overgrow and produce flowers.  One particular plant produced very large leaves and tall bright yellow flowers.

Male Andrena agilissima

On the 3.5.14 I saw a bee on the flowers that I had never seen before.

Andrena agilissima

It was a male bee and so was not gathering pollen but the smoky wings and the white hairs made me think of Andrena agilissima.

A.agilissima blue tint

On the 8.5.14 I was able to get some photographs of a female.  The abdomen is smooth and shiny with a metallic, blue tinge and she has once again the smoky wings.

Front female A. agilissima

The tufts of white hairs on the sides of the eyes and on the sides of the thorax and the last abdominal tergites are distinctive.

Side A. agilissima

These are mining bees but they nest in communes that can have multiple entrances to a complex of tunnels used by several females.  Each female bee will have its own brood cells to lay down its eggs.  So a not totally solitary, solitary bee.

They would be very welcome to construct a commune in my garden but so far they have not been frequent visitors.

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.