More Spring Bees ...

18th March 2014
I mentioned in my last Blog post that Andrena clarkella was typically the first of our solitary bee species to emerge in the spring. This year I saw my first ones on 24th February. This in my experience, is quite early for Warwickshire. Once I've seen these I know that there are other species that won't be far behind.

Another species very much associated with the spring is the Hairy-footed Flower Bee (Anthophora plumipes); also called the Plume-footed Bee. The male of this bee can be recognised by its very active flight and restless demeanour. Appearing as early as February, the males are very conspicuous as they patrol their territory, looking for females and seeing-off rivals. They resemble smallish, very active, gingery bumblebees but with a white face and particularly long hairs on the mid-legs. Females appear a week or so later and look very different. They are all black except for orange pollen-collecting hairs. I'll post some photographs in a later blog, should I manage to get some!

Some of our solitary bee species are honeybee-sized or larger. In fact, they could be mistaken for honeybees and probably are frequently. Some species are very much smaller than honeybees and are generally overlooked. I certainly failed to spot most of the smaller species until recently, even though I've always been a bit of a nature-watcher.

One of the smaller bee species that is particularly evident at the moment locally is Andrena bicolor. Females (image left) are about 10mm long (or a little more), males smaller. The bee has two flight periods, being on the wing from March to May and then from late June to August. Females have black hairs on their face, a rusty/red thorax and pale brown pollen hairs on their hind legs.

Males also have black hairs on their face and this helps distinguish them from other species. Identification of lone male Andrena bees can be very challenging. They are generally slimmer than the females of the species. The antennae are generally noticeably-longer as well, with thirteen segments rather than twelve as in the female. Counting antennal segments isn't that easy though! This is the first male Andrena bicolor that I have encountered and I was very pleased to get a decent photograph.

I'm also very fortunate in having a thriving colony of the Yellow-legged Mining Bee (Andrena flavipes) at another local churchyard. Churchyards really are great places to study local wildlife! I visited on the 17th March and was pleased to see dozens of active males in evidence. Both sexes actually have black legs, but they are covered in yellow hairs. Both also have prominent pale abdominal hair bands. This particular churchyard is particularly well-tended and there were a dozen-or-so gardeners busy there when I visited. Despite this, it is a great place for lots of solitary bee species (and other invertebrates) and the Andrena flavipes seem to find the short turf just to their liking!

Although with bees my main interest is in the solitary species, I still enjoy watching and photographing the social species (honeybess and bumblebees). I do struggle with differentiating bumblebee species though. Perhaps I'll try to address that this year. I can recognise a honeybee though! I found this worker resting in the garden and tried to transfer her to a white card for a photograph. I supply white-background images to BugLife for them to use on their website. She was happy on my finger though and couldn't be coaxed off. I left her there for this shot. Worked quite well!

[Click on any image for a larger version]

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