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.

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The bees in February

The bees in February

k-pollen-2

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.

honey-bee-on-tinus

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.

hellebore-bee-pollen-1

However, judging on noise level the Hellebores in the garden are preferred over the V. tinus and the pale pollen could be theirs.

bee-on-honeysuckle

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.

honey-bee-veronica

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.

wild-bee-1

It is not only the honey bees that are attracted to the Veronica.

wild-bee-2

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.

pollinator-on-veronica

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.

mossy-stone

We try to provide different sources of water for the bees.  This mossy stone is a favourite place for them.

bee-on-moss

Once the sun hits the stone warming up the damp moss there will be five or six bees sunning themselves and taking water.

bee-water-1

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.

bombus-pratoris

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.

carpenter-honeysuckle

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.

bombus-lapidarus

Stop Press!  I have just seen a Bombus lapidarius today but she seemed badly infected by mites.

bombus-lapidarus-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.

bee-on-heather

The bee season is off to an early start in the garden.

 

 

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.

In praise of Hebe

In praise of Hebe

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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.

 

Andrena agilissima colony

Andrena agilissima colony

Last May I saw Andrena agillisima for the first time (See my blog Andrena agillisima).  Now I have discovered a nesting place at the bottom of my garden.

IMG_9116

Some years ago a large Poplar tree fell down in a storm.  The tree was cut up and used for the fire in due course but the root was left as it had fallen in a part of the garden that was very overgrown at that time.  It has formed a very large well-drained mound and this year I spotted the holes and the Andrena agilissima.

However, despite seeing them flying too and fro, I have not been able to get a photograph very easily, as they do not hang about. However, my patience has been rewarded.

1.Andrena agilissima at entrance

I at last managed to get a shot of the black and white head surveying the world from the security of her burrow.

2.Antenna appears

Then I noticed another antenna appear.

3.Second antenna

Then a pair of antennas appeared.

5.Squeeze out

The second bee pushed herself under the first in her wish to exit the common hole.

6.Wings spread

I had not realised that the Andrena agillissima would share the entrance holes to the colony but inside she will build her own capsule for her egg to pass through the larval stages and overwinter as an adult.

The first bee only hesitated a few seconds before joining the second to search for flowers.  She shouldn’t have had far to go if she wanted to try my sprout plants which are flowering specially for her.  You can see her take flight in the slideshow below.

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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.