Wood-carving Leafcutter Bee (Megachile ligniseca) – I adapted an old bird box into a bee hotel about a year ago, and I am quite pleased we are now taking in guests. And I am very pleased to see this species, which is fairly uncommon, with only 2 sightings recorded in South Staffordshire. It typically nests in dead wood, including old fence posts, and sometimes in cavities of man-made items including bee hotels. In the last 2 images one of them shows the final finished stopping of the cavity, where one egg has been planted towards the back, stocked with pollen and nectar for the larva to feed on when it hatches. It will spend winter in there all snug with a full larder. The last image shows crabapple leaves where the female bee has been harvesting the leaves. Look how perfectly she cuts them. Today she was working on a 3rd tube. How busy and industrious is she? And all in 30 degree+ heat!
Vestal Cuckoo Bumblebee
Bombus vestalis – There are a few of these around and about at the moment. It’s a cuckoo-bee which grows up in the nests of the Buff-tailed Bumblebee (Bombus terrestris). Note the conspicuous yellow patch on either side of the abdomen, and also the lack of pollen baskets.
© Peter Hillman ♦ 26th May 2020 ♦ Rear garden, South Staffordshire ♦ Nikon D7200
Common Mourning Bee
Melecta albifrons – This is a new visitor to the garden, and boy, did he love my flowers! He is a he, and he is probably still there now feeding. It is a solitary bee, a cuckoobee of the Hairy-footed Flower Bee (Anthophora plumipes) which invades the nests and has its young raid their hosts larder. Double-click images to enlarge.
© Peter Hillman ♦ 14th May 2020 ♦ rear garden, South Staffordshire ♦ Nikon D7200
Marsham’s Nomad Bee (Nomada marshamella) – When you see how this bee flies you will be forgiven for thinking it is a wasp the way it moves. When it lands and is still you may still think it is a wasp. The fact is, it is a wasp mimic. Double-click images to enlarge.
© Peter Hillman ♦ 1st May 2020 ♦ Rear garden, South Staffordshire ♦ Nikon D7200
Tawny Mining Bee
Andrena fulva – This is a female with her thick gingery coat. I find these very skittish and they don’t like you getting too close to them. Slow and patient gets you there in the end. Double-click to enlarge image.
© Peter Hillman ♦ 14th April 2020 ♦ Rear garden, Staffordshire ♦ Nikon D7200
Hairy- footed Flower Bee
Anthophora plumipes – Lots of these around at the moment if you look out for them feeding from nectar-rich flowers with their long proboscis. It is a sexually dimorphic species, and the male is in the top image, and the female in the bottom image. They never keep still, so you have to hope for the best with these when trying to photograph them. Double-click images to enlarge.
© Peter Hillman ♦ 19th April 2020 ♦ Rear garden, Staffordshire ♦ Nikon D7200
Common Yellow-face Bee
Hylaeus communis – This is a small plasterer bee between 6-8mm (1/4-5/16in) long. The male, as shown here, has a very bright array of yellow facial markings. It is a common visitor to gardens, although this was the first time I had seen it here. Double-click for a closer look.
Copyright: Peter Hillman
Camera used: Nikon D7200
Date taken: 16th June 2019
Place: Rear garden, Staffordshire
European Honey Bee
Apis mellifera – Near the local river Common Ragwort (Jacobaea vulgaris) grows in fair numbers on the outer margins of a famer’s field, and the bright yellow flowers are nectar-rich and attract a lot of insects, including these magnificent bees. Double-click on photos if you wanna ‘bee’ closer.
Copyright: Peter Hillman
Camera used: Nikon D7200
Date taken: 7th July 2019
Place: Local field, Staffordshire
This is a queen Buff-tailed Bumblebee Bombus terrestris which visited the garden. She had obviously been very busy and was dusted in pollen. I think she was tired and needed a rest, and she didn’t like me getting too close and disturbing her as she kept sticking up her middle legs, warding me off I guess.
May 2019, rear garden, Staffordshire, England. © Pete Hillman.
I was actually photographing the flower when this little Lasioglossum sp. of bee appeared. As you can see it is a very small bee compared to the usual honey bees, and has shiny metallic markings which are quite stunning. They are called sweat bees as they can be attracted to perspiration, but they will only sting if they feel threatened. They are very important pollinators, so yep, you are more than welcome to visit my garden anytime little bee.
Click and click again on the image to get that little bit closer …
May 2019, rear garden, Staffordshire, England. © Pete Hillman.
I find the Pyracantha such an amazing climber come shrub or even hedge depending on how you trim and train it, it is so versatile. In the autumn it produces masses of succulant berries which the birds feed on, and in the spring there is an abundance of white flowers which attract all kind of insects like flies and bees. I have quite a fondness for bees, especially bumblebees. This is the Tree Bumblebee Bombus hypnorum.
May 2019, front garden, Staffordshire, England. © Pete Hillman.
Red-tailed Bumblebee Bombus lapidarius female
Bumblebee and Bugle
Common Carder Bumblebee Bombus pascuorum
Red-tailed Bumblebee Bombus lapidarius
A Little Bee
Buck Bumble Stops By
It was a hot sunny afternoon and I sat by the pond sipping some cider when this rather rude fellow came and sat down right beside me.
He immediately began sticking out his tongue, and I said, “Hey, Buck. Do you have to do that right here and right now?”
“I sure do,” he said, sticking out his tongue so far out of his head I thought it might drop out.
“But it is rather rude, don’t you think?” I replied, feeling somewhat repulsed and putting my can of cider down on the deck.
“No, not at all,” the bumblebee said, curling and wriggling his sticky tongue.
Then something quite extraordinary happened. I thought I was on the set of another remake of The Thing when one tongue became three!
What the heck … I thought, and said. “Do you really, really have to do that, as well?”
The sun beat down, flies buzzed and a vibrant blue damselfly floated over the sparkling water of the pond to settle on the sword-like leaf of an Iris.
“I sure do,” he repeated, but it was hard to make out what he was saying with all that odd tongue business going on.
“But is it really necessary? I am trying to have a nice sit down and enjoy a nice drink of scrumpy. It is rather off-putting, you know.”
“I sure do. I have to keep it in tip-top condition. I apologise, but grooming is very important to us bumblebees.”
I mellowed a little, and picked up my can of cider and said, “I guess that’s fine then. Quite a neat trick the three in one thing.”
I dare not repeat what he said, but with that it buzzed off and left me there sitting on the deck pondering over what just happened.
Please click on the images for a larger more detailed view. Clicking again gets you closer still.
Tree Bumblebee (Bombus hypnorum), rear garden, Staffordshire, England. June 2017.
The Bumblebee And The Geranium
I have always had a soft spot for bumblebees since I was a child which has never waned, but has actually deepened as I have got older. This bumblebee is one of my favourites and is called the Early Bumblebee (Bombus pratorum). I am always taken by the bands of yellow and the bright orange tail, although the middle band can be absent in some workers.
Early Bumblebee (Bombus pratorum) on Pencilled Crane’s-bill (Geranium versicolor), rear garden, Staffordshire, England. May 2017.
Bluebells In The Garden
Early Spring Risers
Now this is one bumblebee I have seen a definate increase in visits to my garden in recent years.
The Tree Bumblebee is easily recognised by its gingery-brown thorax and black abdomen with a white tail. This is a short-tongued bumblebee. The queen may have some white hairs on her abdomen, and the male has white hairs on his face. Similar to the Common Carder Bee (Bombus pascuorum), except the Tree Bumblebee has a distinct white tail. Size Queen 18mm, worker 14mm, male 16mm.
In its natural setting it nests in hollows of trees, but here it has taken to gardens, and particularly tit boxes.
Seen early in the year from February until July. Found in woodland, roadside verges, scrubby grasslands, parks and allotments. Often seen visiting fruit bearing plants, tree and shrubs, which make them important pollinators.
A relative newcomer to the British Isles, it was first recorded in Hampshire, England in 2001 and has steadily increased in numbers pushing northwards fringing the borders of Scotland. They have also spread rapidly eastwards, but have been slow in the west, but are now in South Wales. The bumblebee has the potential to spread throughout the whole country without any adverse affect on other species.
June 2014, rear garden, Staffordshire. © Pete Hillman 2014. Nikon D3200, with Sigma 105mm macro lens.
Wool Carder Bee
This has to be one of my very favourite solitary bees with its bright yellow markings, although it can have quite the temper with other bees.
Easily recognised solitary bee by the bright yellow spots on either side of the abdomen. It also has distinctive yellow legs and face. The male is much larger than the female, which is unusual amongst bees. Size 8 to 15mm.
The male holds territory around a clump of flowers expelling all apart from the female carder bees which it will mate with. They are so aggressive they are known to kill bumblebees much larger than themselves and honey bees by crushing them with three sharp prongs on their abdomen. The female cuts and combs the fibres from hairy plants with her large jaws and gathers them into a ball under her body in readiness to take back to her nest, which is usually constructed within a pre-existing cavity or a hollow stem. The ‘carded’ material is then used to line the nest. Good pollinators.
Seen May to August, and found in many habitats, including gardens. Widespread across Europe.
July 2006, rear garden, Staffordshire. © Pete Hillman 2006.
Vestal Cuckoo Bumblebee
Bumblebee Bombus vestalis
This species of cuckoo bee grows up in the nests of the Buff-tailed Bumblebee (Bombus terrestris). This parasitic bee differs from having a conspicuous yellow patch on either side of the abdomen. Other differences include a lack of pollen baskets on the legs, thinner coats, and making a soft murmuring rather than a definitive buzz. This is a short-tongued bee. Also called the ‘Southern Cuckoo Bumblebee’. Similar to the Gypsy Cuckoo-bee (Bombus bohemicus), where the patches aren’t so dominant and are smaller. Sizes male 15 to 19mm, female 20 to 24mm.
Like all cuckoo bees, they have no worker caste as their own, so they invade the hosts’ nests and take the work force for its own. Important plant pollinators.
The female will seek out its host’s nest and will fight off any hostilities towards her, eventually killing the queen of the nest and her offspring, and effectively she will run the show from then onwards, utilising the remaining workers for her and her young’s own benefits. Its hosts’ nests are generally old mouse holes. Feeds on nectar and pollen.
Seen March to August, and found in differing habitats, including gardens and grassland. Males regular in suburban gardens. Common in the south of England and Wales.
June 2007, front garden, Staffordshire. © Pete Hillman 2007.
Tawny Mining Bee
The female is unmistakable with her bright fox-red coat. Size 10 to 13mm.
It can be seen coming and going to its nesting sites in the earth or in lawns where the female throws up little mounds of earth around her entrance. There maybe many mounds in close proximity, each one the entrance to a single, solitary bee’s nest. Excellent and essential pollinator. Feeds on nectar and pollen.
Seen April to June, and found in many habitats, including gardens. Widespread and common.
April 2013, rear garden, Staffordshire. © Pete Hillman 2013.
Common Carder Bumblebee
Also know as the ‘Brown Bumblebee’, this bee has a very distinctive tawny or gingery thorax. The abdominal region contains a mixture of black and brown hairs with traces of fine grey to white and is thin in coverage compared to the thorax which is fairly thick. A long-tongued bee. Size queen 15 to 18mm, worker 10 to 15mm.
These bees use their legs to comb moss (hence the English reference ‘Carder’ which comes from the world of spinning wool) to make their nests. They are relatively placid creatures, and rarely sting even when handled or disturbed. They feed on pollen and nectar, particularly that of clovers. An essential pollinator, and the only bee known to pollinate broad beans.
It is a surface-nesting bee, and nests are usually formed in old mouse holes or amongst carpets of moss or thick grass. The cuckoobee Bombus campestris targets the nests and uses the worker caste to its own advantage.
One of the earliest bees and one of the last to disappear in the autumn. Found in all habitats, including farmland and woodland glades, parks and gardens. Widespread and common in Britain, and one of the commonest bumblebees in Europe.
May 2007, rear garden, Staffordshire. © Pete Hillman 2007.
Early Mining Bee
Quite a small bee which never really kept still, and quite a challenge to photograph with the camera I had at the time.
The rich gingery brown thoracic hair and the blue-black-brown abdomen with the gingery brown tip readily identify this small active, solitary bee. The male is much smaller than the female, and the male has a pale brown face whilst the female is white. Size 10 to 12mm.
Burrows are dug in many open habitats in which they make their nests. Feeds on pollen and nectar.
Seen March to July, and found in various habitats, including parks, garden lawns, sports fields, and similar places. A common species in Britain and across Europe generally.
June 2006, rear garden, Staffordshire. © Pete Hillman 2006.
One of my favourite bumblebees and a regular visitor to my garden.
The queens and workers (and some males) have a white tail and a lemony stripe towards the front of the the thorax, and a lemony stripe across the abdomen. A large robust species with a very short tongue. Similar to Bombus terrestris, which can be very hard to distinguish between workers. Sizes queen 19 to 20mm, male 14 to 16mm, worker 11 to 17mm.
They nest in a variety of places, usually underground, and always under cover. Old rodents’ nests make good places. Often nests beneath timber floors of garden sheds. Mature nests are large, with over 200 workers. Towards the autumn the colony gradually dies out with the old queen, the new fertilised queen flown the nest ready to hibernate and to start over again the next spring. Not particularly fussy eaters. They also dine on the pollen and nectar of the more exotic garden species of flower. They are excellent pollinators.
The queens, looking for nesting sites, are one of the first bees to be seen in the spring. Found in many habitats, but usually in upland and moorland habitats. A regular garden species. Widespread and common, especially towards the north.
June 2006, rear garden, Staffordshire. © Pete Hillman 2006.
This Sharp-tailed Bee (this group is also called Sharp-abdomen Bees or Sharp-bellied Bees) has a dark brown to blackish abdomen with pale stripes, forming a definite point at the rear in females. The abdomen is less pointed in males, and the faces are quite hairy. Size 10 to 15mm.
A cleptoparasitic solitary bee of leaf-cutter bees of the genus Megachile. A good pollinator. Defined as a cuckoobee for its nature of laying eggs in the nests of social bees (similar to that of cuckoo birds where the name comes from) where they are reared as the hosts own larvae. The parasitic bee larva consumes the pollen ball and the larva within the cell and is tended by the host bee’s worker class. Feeds on pollen and nectar.
Seen June to September. Found in many habitats, including gardens. Local. Endangered species in Ireland.
June 2005 and May 2014, rear garden, Staffordshire. © Pete Hillman 2005 and 2014.
This was a special treat when this large bee with a very long tongue (yep, bees have tongues) visited my garden, for I have not seen one since.
Sometimes called the ‘Small Garden Bumblebee’ (despite it being one of the largest species) or the ‘Long-tongued Bumblebee’, it has two yellow bands on the thorax, one yellow band on the abdomen, and a white tail. The tongue is very long (the longest of any bumblebee found in Europe, in fact), and the male has black facial hairs. A large, shaggy garden species. Sizes queen 17 to 22mm, male 13 to 15mm, worker 11 to 16mm.
The nests are usually made underground and always under cover. Queens searching for suitable nesting sites may be observed March to May. Mature nests contain around 100 workers. Barbut’s Cuckoobee (Bombus barbutellus) takes over the nests of B. hortorum, of which it looks very similar, but it is not nearly as widespread.
The males appear in June, and they are found in many habitats, especially gardens. They regularly visits foxglove (Digitalis), Red Clover (Trifolium pratense), and Dead-nettle (Lamium). A widespread and abundant species.
June 2007, rear garden, Staffordshire. © Pete Hillman 2007.
Flower Bee II
Now this is quite a curious bee I discovered visiting my garden. Sometimes called the ‘Hairy- footed Flower Bee’, the female of this fast-flying solitary bee is jet black, whilst the male is largely gingery-brown with a bright yellow face. Long-tongued bee. Size 14 to 17mm.
The nests are built in the ground and in the loose mortar of old walls. Feeds on nectar and pollen, and is a good pollinator.
They are seen March to June, although rarely seen in June. Found in flower-rich pastures, including gardens, where Common Lungwort (Pulmonaria officinalis) is a favourite flower. Distributed throughout much of England and Wales, especially south. Absent from Scotland and Ireland.
Male, top three images taken April 2007, and female bottom three images taken March 2012, rear garden, Staffordshire. © Pete Hillman 2007 and 2012.
Sometimes called the ‘European Honey Bee’, this is the most familiar of all our bees. It is the male drones that we usually see buzzing around the flower borders in summer. They vary from bright honey coloured to grey or dark brown, for Apis mellifera (translates as ‘honey carrying bee’) covers several subspecies or tribes. Sizes queen 16mm, drone 16mm, worker 12mm.
Widely domesticated bee and associated with artificial hives manufacturing honey, wax, and other products. They communicate with the language of dance. Essential pollinator of commercial crops and providers of honey and wax.
Apart form the man-made hives, they generally nest in the hollows of trees, which are constructed from wax. Each nest may contain thousands upon thousands of bees. Feed on nectar and pollen.
Seen early spring until late into the autumn. Found in a wide range of habitats, especially gardens. Nests usually found in woodland. Widespread and abundant. Native to Africa, the Middle East, and Europe. Populations have suffered depletion where non-native bees have been introduced. A recent threat here in Britain is the mite Varroa jacobsoni which has caused devastation to colonies after its introduction in 1992.
July 204 and 15, rear garden, Staffordshire. © Pete Hillman 2014 and 2015. Nikon D3200, with Sigma 105mm macro lens.
Barbut’s Cuckoo Bumblebee
Both sexes have two yellow stripes on the thorax and one on the abdomen with a white tail. They have sparse hairs and the wings are darker. The facial hairs on the male are black. Size 15 to 19mm.
A cleptoparasitic bee of the nests of the Garden Bumblebee (Bombus hortorum).
Females searching for hosts to parasitise are seen in April to May. Males and females on flowers in July and August. Found in many habitats, including gardens. Not generally common, but widely distributed in southern England and in west Wales.
July 2013, local field, Staffordshire. Nikon Coolpix P500. © Pete Hillman 2013.
This is a wasp-like cuckoo-bee which has a black and yellow striped abdomen with reddish markings at the front, a reddish striped thorax, and red legs and antennae. Size 12mm.
Nomada flava is a cleptoparisitic bee of mining bees, where the female lays its eggs so the hatching larva will develop there, killing the host larva.
Seen April to May, and found in a variety of flower-rich habitats, including meadows, hedgerows, verges and gardens. Common and widespread in England and Wales.
May 2012, rear garden, Staffordshire. Nikon Coolpix P500. © Pete Hillman 2012.
Honey Bee Nest
On my walks through the wood yesterday I came across this Honey Bee nest in an old tree hollow. They were busy toing and froing, quite busy in their endeavours.
Photograph of Honey Bee (Apis mellifera) nest, taken October 2016, local wood, Staffordshire. © Pete Hillman 2016. Camera used Nikon D7200, with Sigma 105mm macro lens.
Red Mason Bee
A small solitary bee with golden yellowish to orangish hairs. The male has pale facial hair, whilst the female has black. Up to 14mm in length. It is called the Red Mason Bee for it rakes out old, loose mortar between bricks in walls to construct its nest cells before rendering them over again, but does not strictly utilise mortar cavities, but will use any cavity available.
In the early spring the females will mate then find a natural hollow or man-made one, having a particular liking to mortar in old walls. It will then make cells with mud and store collected pollen or nectar then lay a single egg in each cell. The hole is usually plugged before the female moves off to find another suitable cavity. The entombed larva will then remain in the cavity until the following spring when it will emerge as an adult. These bees are hardy to severe winters. Non aggressive bees which will not sting unless harmed. They are excellent early spring pollinators, especially of fruits. Feeds on nectar and pollen.
Seen April to July in many habitats, including gardens. Very common in southern Britain.
Photographs of Red Mason Bee (Osmia bicornis) taken in May 2015, rear garden, Staffordshire. © Pete Hillman 2015. Camera used Nikon D3200, with Sigma 105mm macro lens.
This is our largest bumblebee and is sometimes known as the ‘Large Earth Bumblebee’. It is usually the first to emerge after hibernation. The queen has a distinctive dirty white to orangey tail, and deep yellow thoracic and abdominal bands. The tongue is very short. Queen 19 to 22mm, male 14 to 16mm, worker 11 to 17mm.
Because of its short tongue this bee has developed a special ability to reach the nectar deep within flower heads by biting a hole at the base of the corolla and then drinking through it. These bees can apparently navigate their way back to a nest from 13km (8 miles) away! Important pollinators, especially of fruit trees, raspberries and blueberries. The nests are built in a variety of locations, but usually underground and always undercover. Large nests may contain over 300 workers. The Vestal Cuckoo-bee (Bombus vestalis) is a cleptoparasitic bee which invades the nests and looks very similar. Feeds on nectar and pollen.
Emerging as early as February in the south. Found in many habitats, and a regular visitor to gardens. A common and very widespread species, not only throughout Britain but also Europe. But not in the far north, and scarce in Scotland.
Photographs of Buff-tailed Bumblebee (Bombus terrestris), taken September 2016, rear garden , Staffordshire. © Pete Hillman 2016. Camera used Nikon D7200, with Sigma 105mm macro lens.