A Colony of the scarce Mining Bee Andrena bucephala

15th May 2012
I was fortuntate enough in 2011, to find a colony of the Mining Bee Andrena bucephala in my local churchyard. At the time I new almost nothing about Britain's solitary bees; I didn't recognise it and didn't know that there were very few known colonies in Warwickshire. When I eventually got the bee identified (by Steven Falk - then Senior Keeper in Natural History at Warwickshire Museum), I was intrigued, and determined to learn more about our fascinating bee populations. I've also been keen to see how the colony fares in 2012.

Andrena bucephala is found mainly in southern England and south Wales, but is generally rare and very local. It's a dark, medium-sized Andrena with a rather pleasant golden colouration. Males (see image lower left) are noticeably smaller and slimmer than the females and have a characteristically large head.

At the churchyard, the nesting sites appear to be concentrated around four almost adjacent grave plots. Two of the plots have full-length memorials and the bees can be seen entering at the edge of the stonework or through broken areas. On one plot which has no memorial stones, many pollen-laden females can be seen arriving and sharing a single entrance hole. This is unusual for Mining Bees but has been described before in Andrena bucephala colonies. It is assumed that once inside the nest, individual females each have their own "subsidiary" nests.

See the UK distribution map at the NBN Gateway here.

Below are three more images; left and right are males and centre, a female.

Andrena bucephala nests are parasitised by the equally scarce Cuckoo Bee Nomada hirtipes. These are present at this site and I'll be adding some images and a BLOG post about them in the near future.

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