An Excellent Week for Bees!

25th April 2013
Suddenly, after all the cold and wet weather, we've had a more settled, warmer spell. As a result of that, I'm very pleased to say, lots more bees have started to appear. Here's a selection from what I've seen.

The Hairy-footed Flower Bee - Anthophora plumipes

Here in the Midlands, the Hairy-footed Flower Bee male, is often the bee that heralds in the Spring. For those not familiar with this bee, it looks rather like a smallish, very active gingery bumblebee; patrolling, darting and hovering around, with a rather strident buzz. But look out for that characteristic white face and the particularly hairy middle pair of legs.

The males emerge usually in February/March time; the females a few weeks later. It was April before I saw my first one in 2013 though. I have them nesting in the stone wall of my house and I keep an eye out for them as spring progresses. They also nest in the local church walls, and the one illustrated was in the churchyard, resting on a leaf in a grassy area.


The female has different colouring , being more-or-less black all over, apart from the rear legs which are covered in orange pollen hairs. Like the males, these are vey active bees and a bit of a challenge to photograph. I found this one in the road outside our house. It was covered in dust and didn't look too well. It is possible that it had recently emerged from one of the nest holes in our wall. I picked it up for the photograph and you can see the overall "rotund" appearance and the orange on the hind legs.

This bee (like many other solitary bees) has a specific cuckoo be parasite: Melecta albifrons. I've seen a a few of these around too but haven't managed to photograph any yet. Once I do, that will be another Blog post!


The Tawny Mining Bee (Andrena fulva)

The female Tawny Mining Bee (Andrena fulva), is arguably one of our most striking and beautiful solitary bees. She is largish and the abdomen is covered with bright golden/orange hairs. The thorax has slightly darker reddish/brown hairs. The Tawny Mining Bee is also one of the easiest bees to recognise.


This is the male Tawny Mining Bee. Like the males of many solitary bees, they are generally smaller and slimmer than the females. Differentiation of male Andrena bees from photographs is notoriously difficult, even for the more experienced enthusiast. With this species however, there are a few helpful features. The mandibles are particularly long and scythe-like, with a prominent "tooth" at the base (clearly visible in this image). This, together with the orangey hairs and white "moustache" are particulalry helpful in recognising this species.


The Yellow-legged Mining Bee (Andrena flavipes)

Last year (2012), an entomologist friend of mine advised me that a local colony of Yellow-legged Mining Bees was active. I visited the site but wasn't really prepared for what I was about to find. It was a sunny day and the air was alive with thousands of bees. This has now become one of my favourite bee locations. My first visit this year provided dozens of males but just a few females (image left). As the season develops, males will become fewer.


And here is the male; smaller and slimmer than the female and and with a very hairy face. You can see that both bees legs aren't actually yellow, but the hairs on them are. Both sexes have prominent bands of pale abdominal hairs.

This is one of the Andrena species that has two flight periods each year. The first is from March to May; the second from June to August. The spring generation is generally more numerous than the summer one.


Andrena nigroaenea

I have a colony of this mining bee in my front garden, so I can check on progress easily. Last year (2012) I saw my first female bee on 20th March. This is 2013's first female, photographed on 21st April.

The thorax and hind legs (pollen basket) of the female Andrena nigroaenea are covered in thick orange/yellow hairs and the abdomen is dark brown with bands of golden hair. The tip of the abdomen is black. The colony is now getting active with a dozen or more nests in progress.


Two smaller Andrena bees; Andrena bicolor and Andrena chrysosceles

Most of the Andrena mining bee species (like Andrena fulva, Andrena flavipes and Andrena nigroaenea above) are largish bees (over 10mm), although there can be a noticeable size variation within populations. Some, Like Andrena bicolor and Andrena chrysosceles, are noticeably smaller (less than 10mm). Because of the size, it's easy to overlook them. I think that Andrena bicolor is a particularly attractive little bee. It's generally very dark with black hairs on the face and reddish/brown hairs on the thorax. There are dense pale hairs on the pollen basket of the female. Here, a female is watching a pollen beetle on a daffodil flower.


This is a female Andrena chrysosceles. It's about the same size as Andrena bicolor but you can see that it's generally much paler. The facial hairs are orangey at the top, fading to almost white around the clypeus (lower face). If photographing, try to get a detailed shot of the abdomen which has prominent bands of pale hairs between the segments and a tuft of orangey hairs at the tip (not visible in this image). The male is one of the few Andrena mining bees that has a white clypeus. I haven't seen any males yet this year.


So that's a roundup of the first successful "bee week" of 2013. Just a caution - remember that I am a photographer; not an entomologist! The identifications assigned to these bees are my assessments and have not been validated. If you feel that I've gone any (or all of them!) incorrect, please post a comment on the Blog.

[Click any image for a larger version]

Comments

Photo comment By Amelia Bassiti: This is a great blog for me and I greatly appreciate the photographs. Unfortunately, when I first saw it I thought I had completely got one of my first observations wrong - that of Anthophora plumipes. After several days of internet search and a lot more photographing of my bees I'm sure mine are both grey male and female. They cannot have faded in the sun yet so I presume this is just a local colouring. Amelia
Photo comment By James Lockwood: Many thanks for these photos, it has helped identify my first tawny mining bee. I'd not have anticipated such a bee being drawn to clay soils.

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