Some Garden Surprises!

01st July 2015

It's been fascinating watching the spring and summer progress in our new Staffordshire garden. Our previous garden in Warwickshire was primarily clay and our new one is very sandy. No doubt this effects the resident invertebrates, particularly the ones I'm most interested in; solitary bees and wasps. The garden has proved very fruitful in this respect and at the time of writing (1st July 2015) I've photographed 28 different bee species there (solitary and social) and quite a few wasp species.

I spend a lot of time in the garden, and when I'm there I'm on the constant lookout for bees and wasps. Towards the end of May I spotted this small Nomada cuckoo bee sitting on the soil. I did what I often do; capture it in a pot and put it in a shady area until I have time to inspect it. I did this and after a short while, carefully removed it with a watercolour brush and placed it on a white card. I photographed it, released it and then thought nothing more for a few days. Eventually I uploaded it to my Flickr photosteam. A bee specialist commented on the image and said it looked like Nomada guttulata. This was later confirmed. It is the brood parasite of the small mining-bee Andrena labiata (which is nesting in the garden). I was surprised and thrilled. This is the first time Nomada guttulata had been recorded in Staffordshire! I've not seen another since.

I'm particularly attracted to the ruby-tailed wasps; a group of solitary, parasitic wasp species that have striking colouration. They are typically very active and difficult to photograph. Generally, they are small, reaching barely 10mm in length. In June I saw a much smaller one in the garden; about 4mm long. I knew I had not seen the species before and got some good photographs. Turns out that it's the Chrysid wasp Pseudomalus auratus. This wasp is widespread in its distribution but not frequently reported. Checking to records, I found that it had only been reported twice in the last 20 years in Staffordshire. Another interesting garden find!

A wasp that I do recognise is Sapyga quinquepunctata. If you have a garden bee-hotel that has nesting Red Mason-bees (Osmia bicornis), then it's likely you'll have this wasp visiting too. Sapyga quinquepunctata is a cleptoparasitic cuckoo wasp that attacks the nests of Osmia bees. They are often in evidence just sitting around near the bee hotel and they seem to roost in holes overnight or when it's cool. They enter the nest holes when the host bee female is away foraging, and lay their own eggs. It's not often that I've seem them feeding on nectar though, but this female was using Saxifrage flowers. Males look similar, but lack the prominent red abdominal bands.

Now back to bees. As Red Mason-bee activity starts to decline, I hope to start seeing leafcutter bees in the garden. These are in the same family as Mason Bees and the females have their pollen-collecting hairs (the scopa) on the underside of the abdomen. At the time of writing (early July) I have leafcutters showing interest in my bee-hotels, but haven't yet seen them actively nesting. They use pieces of leaf to construct their nests; cutting the pieces with their mandibles. The first sighting I had was of this male leafcutter. Notice the expanded areas on his front legs. This looks like Willughby's Leafcutter bee (Megachile willughbiella). This is a common bee, but I've never photographed a male before.

Another exciting garden find was this Coelioxys Sharp-tailed Bee. These bees are cleptoparatitic cuckoo species that attacks the nests of leafcutter bees. This; a female, is only the third one that I've ever seen. She was nectaring on the same plant as a male leafcutter. We have three sharp-tailed species reported in Staffordshire and this is likely to be either Coelioxys inermis or C. elongata. There have only ever been a few reports of either in the county, so I was pleased to have seen her. I've not seen another one since.

So, another interesting period of rewarding observation in the garden. In fact, I've hardly bothered looking elsewhere as this has been such a profitable patch. I'll add another blog post in a few weeks time. Hopefully I'll have more interesting species to report!

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