Ivy Bee moves into Warwickshire

08th October 2013
In 2001, two bee species were recorded in Britain for the first time; the Tree Bumblebee (Bombus hypnorum) in Wiltshire and the Ivy Bee (Colletes hederae) in Dorset. Since then, both have been expanding northwards, with Bombus hypnorum confirmed in Scotland in 2013. The Ivy Bee has been moving more slowly.

By 2012 it had spread across Southern England and South Wales with the most northerly confirmed sighting being in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire. In 2013, there had been additional sightings in North Worcestershire, South Shropshire and South Staffordshire but not from my home county; Warwickshire.

More of that later, after some information about this interesting bee. Not only new to Britain, this bee is relatively new to science, being first described as a species in 1993. Remarkable for such a large and impressive bee! It had been previously misidentified as one of two other closely-related and similar-looking Colletes bees; C. succinctus and C. halophilus. The three species form the "succinctus group" with the Ivy Bee being the largest.

The upper photograph shows the male. The males of the succinctus group are difficult to separate, but there are subtle differences. The males are more slender than the females and of course, lack the pollen-collecting hairs on the hind legs. The lower photograph shows the female. Females are about the same size as honeybees. Both sexes have broad, buff-coloured abdominal hairbands and orangey hairs on the thorax. Like with many bees though, these colours can fade over time. Females have a patch of darker buff hairs on the sides of the first abdominal tergite (segment), and this can help identify them in the field (just visible in the photograph).

They are a late-flying bee (August to November), their season corresponding to the flowering of their preferred food plant; Ivy. Both sexes do visit other flowers though. The Ivy Bee nests in the ground, often in large aggregations.

So what about finding this lovely bee in Warwickshire? On Saturday 5th October 2013, BugLife entomologist Steven Falk and I (both Warwickshire residents) set out with a view to seeing whether we could discover Colletes hederae in the county. The plan was to head southwards towards the Oxfordshire border, examining stands of flowering ivy. We got to the border having seen none, then turned and headed northwards along a different route. We stopped near Long Compton where there was flowering Ivy by the side of the road. As at other sites where we had stopped, there was lots of insect activity; social wasps, honeybees, bumblebees, hoverflies and the occasional hornet. Suddenly I spotted a male Ivy Bee. I called Steven, and he was able to confirm it. I had made the first sighting of Colletes hederae in Warwickshire! Checking the same area of Ivy, we saw several individuals; both males and females. Later on the return journey, we also had a sighting in Tredington.

So keep a look out for the Ivy Bee in your area. Any Colletes bee visiting Ivy in October/November is likely to be C. hederae. BWARS (The Bee, Wasp and Ant Recording Society) is collating all findings via its mapping project; here's a link. Try to include a photograph if you can. Happy hunting!


Photo comment By Amelia: Congratulations on your spot for Warwickshire. How lucky to go with Steven Falk. I found my first C. hederae near me this year but hardly surprising considering I'm in France and the quantities of ivy around me. The ivy is an entomologists paradise. I've no idea what everything was (such a lot of things I've never seen before, I'm getting worried about me as I've been seeing a lot of flies and thinking how beautiful they were.

Leave a comment

Your Name
Your Email
Your Comment
No info required here, please press the button below.