Celebrating solitary bees
Aberystwyth Castle grounds are always one of my favourite places to visit for their abundance in bird life as well as the vibrant flowers which adorn it’s borders and decorative beds. As mentioned in my previous blog, there is a noticeable lack of cultivated flowers this year as the annuals have not yet been replaced due to the ongoing pandemic.
Fortunately there are still some hardy perennials which flower each year without help or intervention, providing a burst of colour to the Castle’s lower garden. Flowers such as this beautiful purple-blue catmint or nepeta growing beside the towering stone wall which provides shelter from much of the coastal winds.
These fragrant flowers are the perfect place to look for bees, from the large and familiar bumblebees to the less well known solitary bees. There are some 250 species of solitary bee in the UK, and as their name suggests these bees do not live in colonies, although they will sometimes congregate together in small groups where food and nest sites are plentiful.
Solitary bees are industrious nest buildings and highly efficient pollinators, without which many of our flowers and crops simply would not exist! These bees tend to be non-aggressive and are very unlikely to sting making it easy to watch them up close without disturbing them or risking a painful prod!
Two species of these solitary bee were particularly drawn to the flowers on my visit, and the air was filled with the sound of buzzing wings as the bees darted between the flower heads.
The red mason bee is a small solitary bee with a hairy orange body, and is a common sight in gardens and urban spaces. Their thick ‘fur’ makes them very efficient pollinators, able to collect pollen all over their bodies as they fly from flower to flower.
The mason bees gets it’s name from it’s habit of nesting in wall cavities and buildings, although they will also take advantage of a well located bird box or bug hotel.
Females have powerful jaws as seen here, which they use to carry clumps of mud used to seal up the entrance to their nest holes.
The female hairy footed flower bee is a very distinctive looking bee, much more bumblebee like an appearance with a stocky, rounded body. She is all black in colour, with a very long tongue, adapted for reaching nectar deep within flower trumpets.
I was rather pleased to get this shot with the tongue extended, although I would have preferred to capture her on a more colourful background rather than the drab grey wall.
A less successful shot here, but it demonstrates the length of her extraordinary tongue quite nicely!
Despite her less than streamlined appearance the flower bee is actually very agile with a darting flight pattern and tends to feed on the wing, hovering above a flower rather than coming to rest on it’s petals as many other species do.
As a result her little wings never stop moving and are a constant blur!
Female flower bees collect pollen using specialised hairs on their rear legs which can result in a rather fetching pair of yellow trousers!
These pollen baskets can be a variety of colours depending on which flowers the bees have been feeding on.
The hairy footed flower bee is one of the first species of bee to emerge during the spring, it’s dark colouration and large size enable it to keep warm during conditions too cold for many other insects, meaning less competition for food.
— All photographs copyright of Claire Stott/Grey Feather Photography © 2020 www.greyfeatherphotography.com
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