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.
Most of the Ivy bees (Colletes hederae) I spotted when I was out walking last week were living up to their reputation as busy little mini-beasties.
But then I spotted this one, sitting on a leaf, cleaning the pollen off its legs, wings and body. I asked politely if it would please smile for the camera … and it did … I think.
Ivy bees only arrived in Britain in 2001 but they’ve slowly expanded their range across southern England and in to south Wales. They’re very handsome little bees and completely harmless but can only be seen when the Ivy is flowering, from September to November. If you spot one, it would really help if you could report it so that the wonderful folk at BWARS (the Bees, Wasps and Ants Recording Society) can track the bees’ spread around Britain.
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.