I heard them before I saw them.
I’d been smelling the ivy flowers all day, as I walked one of my local circuits, though Cosmeston along to Lavernock and back to Penarth along the coastal path. But I hadn’t noticed any open flowers until I heard the loud buzzing coming from the ivy ahead of me on the path. It was alive with various species of bee and fly and hoverfly. And then I spotted what I was looking for – the ginger fluff and black-and-yellow-stripes of Ivy bees (Colletes hederae), my first for 2019.
At this time of year, the delicate lilac tinge of Devil’s-bit scabious casts its imperial purple shadow across the meadows at Cosmeston and at Lavernock. I love it, and I’m not the only one.
It’s proving extremely popular as a late-summer early-autumn source of nectar for all manner of bees, butterflies and hoverflies. Here are a few I’ve seen in recent days …
For the second day in a row, places in north Wales have posted record high winter temperatures and, though a chilly breeze has kept things a bit cooler here in the south, it’s still much warmer than it should be. And these unseasonable highs have been responsible for the early awakening of much insect life. On today’s wander I spotted several hoverflies and bumblebees, a Brimstone butterfly flew past my house earlier, and the cherry tree outside my window has been buzzing with bees all day. It’s wonderful to see all these critters out and about again but it’s also a worry as winter’s probably not finished with us yet.
Devil’s-bit scabious (Succisa pratensis) has a beautiful flower that paints the wildflower meadows at Lavernock Nature Reserve in shades of purple lusciousness and provides some very welcome late summer nectar and pollen to a host of insects, particularly bees, flies and butterflies.
And that name? Well, the story goes that the devil was not pleased that the plant’s medicinal properties were healing the skin conditions of people suffering from bubonic plague and scabies so, in a fit of rage, he tried to kill off the plant by biting off the ends of the plant’s roots. Ever the party pooper!
Last Sunday, on #WildflowerHour, the challenge was to find #plantsforpollinators, i.e. to find wildflowers that support a variety of the insects that act as pollinators. I had found several different insects on Bramble flowers last week so posted a series of photos that showed them. And that gave me the idea for day 13 of #30DaysWild, namely to see what insects I could find on the local Bramble bushes. It was overcast and a bit cooler today, so I didn’t see as many butterflies as last week, but there were bees and bumblebees, flies and hoverflies, one butterfly, and a number of bugs and beetles. Here they are …
‘If all mankind were to disappear, the world would regenerate back to the rich state of equilibrium that existed ten thousand years ago. If insects were to vanish, the environment would collapse into chaos.’
~ E. O. Wilson (1929 – ), American biologist, environmentalist, author
Some days are just magical! I went out looking for birds – instead I got mobbed by Red admiral butterflies while walking along the coastal path, which made me grin like a Cheshire cat, and then I found these little buzzers.
They’re Ivy bees (Colletes hederae) and, as their name suggests, they feed on ivy flowers so they don’t appear until early autumn, when most other bees are winding down activities for the year. With an orange woolly thorax and orange-and-black striped abdomen, these bees are easy to identify, though Colletes hederae was only described as a separate species back in 1993 (before that it was confused with two other species of Colletes). Ivy bees only arrived in Britain from Europe in 2001 but have since gradually spread across southern England and in to south Wales: the extent of their spread is being tracked by BWARS, the Bees, Wasps and Ants Recording Society, so please do log your sightings, either on their website here or with your local records centre.
I had seen my first Ivy bees for the year the previous week but this new sighting was more special because it was a colony. Though the Ivy bee is a solitary bee (it doesn’t form a hive), a group of females will often excavate their individual burrows and underground chambers together in a sandy bank or similar area of loose earth. And, as the BWARS website explains, male bees often wait by the burrows for females to return and then pounce on them. When the other males spot what’s happening, they also want a piece of the action, jumping on the mating couple to form a writhing mass or mating ball. I was lucky enough to see one of these happen, as shown below.
The pretty lilac of teasel flower is beginning to fade now but the mini beasts have certainly been enjoying its nectar. In my local parks and reserves it’s a favourite with the 6-spot Burnet moths and with bees of all species. And not long after those pretty little flowers fade away, the seeds will begin to form and grow, and provide food for the birds, particular the dapper little goldfinch, during the winter months. I’ll try to catch photos of them on the teasels in a couple of months’ time.
You’ve no doubt heard of the Cuckoo bird that lays its eggs in the nests of other birds to get them to do all the hard work of feeding and raising their chicks but have you heard of the Cuckoo bees? These are the Nomada species, a huge group of bees with over 850 species worldwide, though only about 30 of these can be found in Britain. Even so, it is extremely difficult to tell those 30 species apart so I’m not even going to attempt to identify those in my photos.
As you may have guessed, these bees lay their eggs in the nests of other bee species, primarily the Andrena species. When they hatch, the Cuckoo bee larvae eat the eggs of their host and then consume the food the Andrena had gathered for their own young. It’s very cunning if rather nasty behaviour.