First wild bee of the year

First wild bee of the year

1st bee

It was only the 12 February 2019 and I saw my first solitary bee taking nectar from the Viburnum tinus in the garden.

2nd bee

Almost immediately I spotted another one, slightly larger, but not I thought the same species.

1st bee on top

The first bee is very much like a male to me and I was keen to get a photograph of the wing venation to identify it to genera level.

1st bee venation

I thought I had it and saw the second bee on the ground.

2nd bee under plum tree

The second bee looked interested in prospecting the area.  Looking out for females, I wondered?  This is under our plum tree and there is already a colony of Andrena cineraria in residence that will put in an appearance later in the year but I could see no sign of any holes and I did not get a wing shot.

Back inside I found that the wing venation photograph was not as good as I had hoped but I thought I could perhaps push through the identification key in Steven Falk’s Field Guide to the Bees of Great Britain and Ireland.  When I turned up with the proposed ID as a bumblebee I realised I had gone adrift somewhere.

Never mind, perhaps another day.

queen bumble white tail.JPG

Then the idea came to me that I could perhaps identify the huge white tailed queen that is with me throughout the winter on sunny days.

But no – this too is past my ken.

queen bumble early

On the 12th. I had also seen for the first time the orange tailed queen.  I am fairly certain this is Bombus pratorum, the early bumble bee.

queen carder bee.JPGToday, 15th. February I saw my first carder queen.  I am not even trying to go closer than that.  I am just happy to see so many bees in the garden in the sunshine.

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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.

Anthidium manicatum carding wool

Anthidium manicatum carding wool

Stachys

I have some Stachys towards the bottom of the garden.

Not many people can resist stroking the soft furry leaves of Stachys.

IMG_0432

But if you see patches on the stem or leaves that are lacking the hairs, it could be that you have an interesting bee in the neighbourhood.

Anthinium manicatum on stem

Yesterday in the garden I noticed this Anthidium manicatum, or wool carder bee making repeated visits to my Stachys.  She must have razor sharp mandibles as the stem is shaved in a firm downward movement.

Anthidium manicatum no hands

She has now collected her bale and is about to fly back to her nest.  I watched her arrive and it took less than a minute for her to roll up a ball of the soft fibres.  I don’t know where she has her nest but last Setember one nested in one of my bee houses and I described it in my other blog A French Garden.  Check out Mason bee hotels or houses to see where she nested.

Anthophora furcata

It was not only the Anthidium that was interested in the Stachys.

Anthophora furcata on Stachys

As I waited for the Anthidium to return, I noticed an Anthophora furcata.

Anthophora furcata on Stachys

Stachys looks and incredibly soft and welcoming plant for bees.

Carpenter

I shouldn’t forget the Carpenter who passed by too but she gets everywhere!

Isn’t nature wonderful ???

Isn’t nature wonderful ???

O.cornuta emerges 19.3.15

The first male Osmia cornuta emerged on the 19 March.  Since then he has had to put up with dull, rainy days and colder than normal temperatures.  I know that the females emerge a few weeks later but he seems completely unaware of this and faithfully visits the holes where I presume he can smell the females, still comfortably tucked up in their cocoons.

IMG_8809.male O.cornuta resting (1)

The males also play out the waiting game sitting in any of the empty holes of the bee hotel, hoping for the sun to come out or better still for the females to emerge.

Anthophora aestivalis...

It’s not just the Osmia males that are in waiting but the Anthophora are waiting too.  (I think this may be an A. aestivalis because I’ve seen its legs and it is not a plumipes.)

2 male o. cornuta (1)

But with all that waiting I think some of them must get a bit confused.

2 male o. cornuta (2)

The male in the hole is desperately trying to explain he is not a female.

2 male o. cornuta (3)

Giving up in desperation he retreats.

2 male o. cornuta (4)

Then gathers his strength to be more assertive and push his way past.

O.cornuta female

Strangely, while all this, “Shuff off, I’m not a female” was going on, I noticed a black head emerging slowly from a hole not far beneath them.  It did make me wonder that if I had noticed and they had been waiting for it to happen for two weeks that they might have been a bit quicker on the uptake.

O.cornuta fem with male

Eventually, without me having to shout, “She’s behind you!”, one of them spotted her.

O.cornuta female emerges

The first Osmia cornuta female of the season emerged!

O.cornuta mating with 3

Having had two weeks to prepare for the big event, I was a bit disappointed with what followed.  I just couldn’t see this position as efficient for increasing the population of solitary bees.  They tried the threesome, never the less, until the top one gave up.

O.cornuta male waiting on side lines

The second male moved off to watch the proceedings from the side lines.

O.cornuta getting suck in the hole

I felt the female was getting pretty fed up and then she made a clever manoeuvre towards a free hole.

O.cornuta getting suck in the hole (1)

This did not deter the determined male who hung on regardless.

O.cornuta getting suck in the hole (2)

The female managed to squash both of them into a stalemate, whereupon the male gave up.

O.cornuta female shakes free

Having shaken off her admirer the female emerged onto the surface of the log to take stock of her position.

O.cornuta female warns off male

A male tried to take advantage of her but was warned off with a defensive position and mandibles wide open in warning.

O.cornuta female grooms

With a few butt wiggles and a quick groom the female took off.  She will soon enough be mated and I am sure return to start her own nests.

The males that I have seen patrolling the bee hotel with impatience will have to get their technique improved if they hope to pass their genes to the future generation.  So far I would rate them at 10/10 for winter survival, spring survival and persistence but they are going to have to do better at their next attempt at copulating.

Osmia cornuta male

Osmia cornuta male

Carder

I was happily watching the bumble bees on the winter honeysuckle when I saw a much smaller bee that was not a bumble bee.

Back

It was moving much quicker than the bumbles and much more difficult to get a picture of it.

Side eating 2

The problem is that when it sticks its head into the flower it covers up its most distinguishing feature.

Upside down Osmia

Even though he is upside down this photograph shows the white facial hairs of the Osmia cornuta male.  They are visible while he is flying but not so easy to catch for a photograph.

Osmia cornuta male

Sideways on you can see he is slimmer than the females which should be around in another few days.  The temperature has gone up to 21 degrees C in the garden today (8 March 2015) and it was the same temperature yesterday despite overnight lows approaching zero.

I’ve put my bee hotels out today and reminded my husband that he had promised to make me another one this year.

Male Andrena

Our big plum tree is just starting to flower and I saw what I think is a male Andrena on the flowers.

Mandibles

He has prominent mandibles and I wonder whether it could be an Andrena fulva male as I always see the females on my blackcurrant bushes every year.

Solitary bee season seems to have started suddenly now that the rain has stopped and the sun has reappeared.

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

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.