Every year I look out for them. Every year I share photos of them, and 2021 is no exception. Here, then, are some of this year’s cohort of Ivy bees, at their burrows and feasting on Ivy flowers.
There’s no doubt about it – the European hornet (Vespa crabro) is an imposing, awe-inspiring creature, a giant of the apian world.
I spotted this one resting on a bramble bush during a woodland walk on Saturday and, as I rarely see them stationary, couldn’t resist getting some close-up photos. But not too close: these shots were taken using my 300mm zoom lens, so I was about two metres away. And I admit that, when the hornet became aware of me and turned to check me out, I did back off a little further. They rarely sting – only when stressed or threatened; it’s their sheer size (between 25-35mm) that I find a little intimidating.
But this beautiful creature obviously didn’t see me as a threat and proceeded to clean its wings and eyes while I looked on in awe. A special encounter!
These photos had the entomologists on Twitter getting excited when I first posted them Monday evening. Though I didn’t realise it at the time, what I was seeing was a parasite emerging from the back of the bee’s body. The parasite is a Stylops, a species that has a rather gruesome but incredibly fascinating lifestyle.
The female Stylops lives permanently in the body of its host, often, as here, one of the Andrena species of bee. Her head and thorax poke out of the bee’s abdomen so she can release male-attracting pheromones and mate. I managed to photograph these and blogged about them in April 2020 (Wild word: stylopised). When the resulting larvae emerge, they pop out onto flowers the bee is feeding on, so they can then hitch a ride with another bee, burrow into it, and start the process all over again.
Some of the Stylops larvae are male, with wings. They do not have mouth parts for feeding as their only purpose is to find a female and mate. It is one of those emerging winged males that can be seen in my photos and, apparently, this process is rarely seen. Unfortunately, someone came walking along the path where I was watching this bee and I had to move to one side to allow them to pass at a safe distance. When I looked back, the bee had disappeared.
If you want to read more about the Stylops, there’s an interesting article on the Royal Entomological Society website – the male Stylops has the distinction of appearing as the emblem on the society’s official seal and logo.
Despite the appalling weather – frequent heavy rain and occasional strong winds – we’ve been experiencing over the last couple of weeks, I have managed still to find a few hardy insects, persisting by cunningly finding sheltered places to avoid the worst of the inclement conditions.
These bees seem to have the right idea. On the left is a Buff-tailed bumblebee, which I watched emerging from inside the cosy, fluffy duvet of an Old man’s beard seedhead and, on the right, a Common carder that seems to have the same idea and be looking for a place to snuggle down.
Also looking cosy, these Common earwigs were huddling in the cups of umbellifer seedheads.
Common darters have still been active in the more sheltered spots during the occasional sunny periods, these at Cosmeston Lakes Country Park.
The last of this year’s brood of Ivy bees were still feeding their grubs. They had made use of a rabbit scrape to excavate the underground burrows where their eggs are laid, grubs hatch and pupate and will remain until emerging as adult bees next autumn.
bees on scabious, Bombus pascuorum, Bombus terrestris, British bees, British wildflowers, Buff-tailed bumblebee, Bull-headed furrow bee, Common carder bee, Devil's-bit scabious, Lasioglossum leucozonium, Lasioglossum zonulum, Megachile ligniseca, White-zoned furrow bee, Wood-carving leafcutter bee
In recent weeks, when the weather has been fine and the air relatively still, I’ve been spending time searching the Devil’s-bit scabious for bees. Not just any bees, but four scarce and endangered bees. This is part of Buglife’s ‘Searching for Scabious’ project, which
aims to improve our understanding of the distribution and conservation status of some of Wales’ rarest and most threatened solitary bees – the Large Scabious Mining Bee (Andrena hattorfiana) and its associated cuckoo, the Armed nomad bee (Nomada armata), and Small Scabious Mining Bee (Andrena marginata) and its cuckoo, the Silver-sided nomad bee (Nomada argentata).
I wasn’t familiar with these bees and am not very good at bee identification in general but Liam Olds, Buglife’s local conservation officer, has put together an excellent explainer video, which can be accessed on YouTube, so I thought I’d join the search.
Unfortunately, I haven’t managed to find any of the scarce bees at the two local sites where Devil’s-bit scabious grows in abundance (and neither has Liam, which was reassuring for me re my search skills but bad news for the bees). The bees I did find most commonly were the appropriately named Common carder (Bombus pascuorum) (below, left) and the Buff-tailed bumblebee (Bombus terrestris) (below, right).
Liam very kindly helped to identify the other small bees I found. These lovely little furrow bees are either the White-zoned furrow bee (Lasioglossum leucozonium) or the Bull-headed furrow bee (Lasioglossum zonulum) – the two species are too similar to tell them apart without closer examination.
I also found several of these more distinctive individuals, the Wood-carving leafcutter bee (Megachile ligniseca). You can find out more about them, and watch a little video of their nest-building skills, on the BWARS website. Meantime, I’m heading back to the scabious for another look.
Another day, another mining bee. You’ll recall we had the grey-haired Ashy mining bee on Tuesday; well, today we have the Tawny mining bee (Andrena fulva). And what a cracking colour it is! I’d love to have hair like this.
The Bumblebee Conservation Trust website says these bees ‘can be found nesting in large groups and can be common in urban environments and garden lawns’ but I think that depends on location as the bees I see locally are usually singles, in less urban environments and, sadly, not as common as I’d like them to be, as their rich vibrant colour is very cheering.
Unfortunately, just like the Ashy mining bees, the Tawnies can also fall victim to bee-fly predation. You can read more about that and the bees themselves on the BCT website here.
I’d forgotten about this little colony of Ashy mining bees (Andrena cineraria) until I walked past on today’s exercise walk, saw their buzz of spring activity, remembered them at this location last summer. The female bees have set up home – a series of individual nests, accessed by the small holes you can see in my photos – in a sandy bank near the entrance to one of the few local parks that’s still open.
The males in this group (2 of perhaps 20 shown above) were particularly active, sometimes fighting each other for access to the larger females (the two photos immediately below), sometimes battling with the females as they tried to mate with them.
Unfortunately, I was not the only creature watching the bees’ activity – a Dark-edged bee-fly (Bombylius major) was also hovering nearby, waiting to roll its eggs into the bees’ tunnels so its larvae could predate the bees’ offspring. Not surprisingly, the bees were dive-bombing, trying to make it flee.
Stylopised: Entomology; (of a bee or other insect) parasitised by a stylops (Oxford Dictionary).
As with most tales about parasites, this one is both extremely fascinating and more than a little revolting. My photos here show a mining bee, one of the Andrena species, possibly Andrena scotica (thanks to local entomologist Liam Olds for that identification). The bee has been stylopised – the two small orange-ish bumps protruding from its abdomen are parasites, females of the Stylops family of Twisted-wing flies (though, due to the strangeness of these insects, there is some dispute about whether they’re really part of the fly family at all). Though the male flies do hatch and fly around, the females spend their entire life inside their host – the males inseminate them in situ and the females lay their eggs inside their host. Once the eggs have hatched into grubs, those grubs leave the host and wait on a leaf or flower for an unsuspecting bee to arrive, climb aboard and burrow into the bee, and the cycle begins again.
I had never heard of these Stylops parasites until I saw an incredible close-up image of them on Twitter last week, and then just happened to photograph them myself while out walking on Saturday. If you’re on Twitter, Ed Phillips’ amazing photo can be seen here and you can read more about Stylops on the Royal Entomological Society’s website.
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.
This photo was actually taken yesterday because, being the occasional numpty that I am, I didn’t take my camera with me when I went out for a stroll and some groceries this afternoon, after the rain had cleared. The bee is a Common carder (Bombus pascuorum) but I’m not sure about the geranium. Although it’s growing beneath a hedgerow in a rural lane, I think it’s a garden escape, as its description doesn’t fit with the native geraniums in my plant book. Whatever it is, it’s obviously tasty … if you’re a bee.