Some Madeiran Bees

03rd July 2013
My wife and I have just had a lovely holiday in Madeira. This was primarily a sightseeing tour rather than a photographic one, but there were plenty of opportunities for insect-spotting and photography and I managed to photograph several species that I've never seen before.

Madeira is a Portugese island situated in the Atlantic Ocean, some 540 miles (870 kilometers) off the coast of Morocco. It enjoys mild all-year weather and I was hoping to see some interesting insects, particularly bees. Things didn't look too promising though when on the day of arrival, I asked the local tour guide where near the hotel in Funchal, I could go looking for insects. He replied that Madeira didn't really have any insects!

This obviously couldn't be the case. The island is groaning under the weight of flowering plants and exotic fruit crops and that calls for a considerable amount of pollination! The fact is, there seems to be low numbers of troublesome flies and mosquitoes etc. A quick look at the hotel garden however, immediately showed some spectacular monarch butterflies and a variety of foraging bees.

Hot temperatures are great for holidays and also for bees. But this makes them very active and particularly difficult to photograph! We went to the Funchal municipal gardens earlyish one morning and this was one of the first bees I saw. At first, with its overall black and white appearance, I thought it was an Andrena species, akin the Andrena cineraria. But this is a largish bee with a white tip to its abdomen. The thoracic band is pale yellow rather than white and I assume it's a Bombus species. I struggle with the UK varieties, so have no idea for the identification of this one. Like with the majority of images in this blog, suggestions for identification would be most welcome! I don't think I saw another one of these.

What soon became clear, was that the majority of bees on Madeira are these banded varieties. I think that these are Amegilla species, but haven't yet found any suitable resources to help me with further identification. These are all large bees with big eyes and banded abdomens. They flit rapidly from flower to flower and are a real challenge to photograph. They will often hover in front of flowers, tongue extended, prior to approaching the flower.

This was one of the palest varieties, with almost white abdominal hairs bands and white hairs on the face. The thoracic hairs were creamy/beige.

Here's another pale bee, deep inside a flower. This is the best shot I got. I tried to encourage it to the edge of the flower so that I could see additional details, but it then flew off rapidly. I'm assuming that this is a Bombus species.

I've read that Bombus ruderatus is found on Madeira and there is also a local species; Bombus maderensis. This looks like our Bombus terrestris but is thought to be a separate species.

Researching online, it appears that about twenty bee species have been reported on the island. This includes (in additional to B. maderensis) the "local" species Hylaeus maderensis, Andrena maderensis, Osmia maderensis and Amegilla maderae. I didn't see any Hylaeus or Osmia species but as mentioned earlier, there are lots of these banded Amegilla bees. We were having a meal in a restaurant garden on one of the days, and these gingery Amegilla bees were active on some shrubbery. I saw one (just behind another diner), stop on a branch, hold on with its mandibles and start to groom. It took great restraint not to ask the diner to move so that I could photograph it! I thought this had been my one-and-only chance of seeing this behaviour, but that evening, I witnessed it in a Funchal garden and got this image. I was very pleased. I posted the image on iSpot and Flickr, but have had no suggestions for identification yet.

So, not only did I want to photograph Madeiran bees, I wanted to find one of the local specialities. I think that this one may come the closest. According to what I've managed to find out, Amegilla maderae has the typical Amegilla appearance, but is very dark, with brown/black thoracic hairs and bands of tan-coloured abdominal hairs. There could of course, be another similar-looking bee of a different species on Madeira. Again, any help would be gratefully received!

Here's aomething that I can recognise with more confidence; the honeybee, Apis mellifera. These were reasonably common, but I've read that numbers are declining on the island and that they have virtually disappeared from some areas. Not sure of the reasons. I also read that lots of the inhabitants are scared of bees and that swarms are often destroyed. Don't know that true this is.

I've also read that in many areas of the island (particularly the higher levels where the endemic flora predominates), few formal surveys of animal life have been conducted. Perhaps there are other species of native bee yet to be discovered. What a beautiful place for a research project!


Photo comment By Stuart Roberts: From the top: Bombus ruderatus Amegilla maderae - male (this taxon is possibly just a colour morph of A. quadrifasciata) B. ruderatus A. maderae (m) A. maderae (f) Apis mellifera (w) Cheers, Stuart
Photo comment By Amelia Bassiti: The Amegilla maderae are beautiful, I love their green eyes. It was a bit risky being so polite and not asking the other diner to move, I'm sure he would have understood.
Photo comment By Thomas: see: Fellendorf, M., Mohra, C., Roberts, S., Wirtz, P. & van der Zanden, G. 1999. The bees of Madeira (Hymenoptera, Apoidea). Bocagiana 197, 1-17. & Borges, P.A.V., Abreu, C., Aguiar, A.M.F., Carvalho, P., Jardim, R., Melo, I., Oliveira, P., Sérgio, C., Serrano, A.R.M. & Vieira, P., (eds.) 2008. Listagem dos fungos, flora e fauna terrestres dos arquipélagos da Madeira e Selvagens. Direcção Regional do Ambiente da Madeira & Universidade dos Açores, Funchal & Angra do Heroísmo.

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