As anyone that follows me on twitter will know I have over the last couple of years become an obsessive bee watcher and have spent many many hours watching them and still find every second exciting. I spent about 150 hours or so watching pollinators for my dissertation and found some quite interesting things which with any luck will be published soon in a scientific journal. Till then I want to keep the results close to my chest but after that I will be sure to write about my findings.
A couple of years ago I wouldn’t have thought there were only a couple of bee species in Britain comprising of the black and yellow stripey bumblebees and honey bees. Since then I have had my eyes opened to another world, a world of small but amazingly beautiful solitary bees.
But why the interest in solitary bees? Well firstly I defy anyone to tell me that they are not intrinsically beautiful. Their ecological value is also unquantifiable! Honey bees are often thought as these wonderful pollinators, which they are for crops in some cases (usually on mass). However, unless I am mistaken, sadly there is now no native honey bees left. Bumblebees and solitary bees in my opinion are far more important pollinators of wildflowers than honey bees are are often ignored. Bumblebee and solitary bee populations have declined at a drastic rate and so have wild flower populations although it is not known whether plant declines caused bee declines or vise versa.
As many of you will realise I’m also an advocate of citizen science and biological recording, this year I have been especially efficient at recording bee species. This has highlighted to me how overlooked these species are as many of the bees I find have never been recorded in the area before. I believe this is not because they are changing their distribution but because noone notices them going about their business, I hope to change this.
I have also opened my eyes to more bumblebee species, for example recently I found a heath bumblebee at a local wildlife trust site. This species I had never seen before and was confirmed as a Heath Bumblebee (Bombus jonellus), a species that had never been recorded in the 10km square before.
Many people know about cuckoos, a type of bird that lays its eggs in the nest of another bird. But how many people would realise that there are cuckoo bees! There are cuckoo species of both solitary bees and bumblebees but they have different tactics. Cuckoo bumblebee queens find the nest of their host and kill the queen bumblebee. They then take over the nest meaning with the worker bees still continuing to bring back pollen and nectar. She will then produce queens and males towards the end of the season allowing the cycle to continue next year. Cuckoo solitary bees find their host and then lay an egg in the host’s burrow. This then hatches and kills the larvae of the host species and then emerges the following year.
Finally Some Thank Yous
I want to end this blog post with a few quick thank yous, I could thank so many people but here are a few key people I wish to thank. Firstly I would like to thank Jane Adams, she played a huge part in getting me interested in bees and has been really supportive in encouraging my interest and mentioning me to Stuart Roberts, the chairman of the Bees, Wasps and Ants Society. Stuart has been intrinsic in helping me identify bees and I challenge anyone to go for a walk with him looking for bees and not be inspired and in awe of his knowledge. Finally I would like to thank Ian Beavis, Ian has a vast knowledge of bees and has put up with me constantly tweeting him photos for him to help identify. He always replies explaining the key features of the bees in order to not only tell me what species it is but to enable me to understand why it is that species and the ecology of those species.
More Information on Bees
If you wish to find out more information on bees then I recommend these websites
Bees, Wasps and Ants Recording Society
Bumblebee Conservation Trust
Ed Phillips website – full of out of this world photos of bees and other insects.