Mid Wales Bees and Wasps
Welcome to the website - plus the latest news
Updated: Apr 21
Welcome to the Radnorshire and Breconshire recording website for bees and wasps.
It has been created as a way to share my interest and sightings of the bees and wasps of the Counties of Radnorshire and Breconshire. Hopefully it may enthuse others to start recording bees and wasps. It would be nice to share their sightings and records, with permission of course!
There is a designated space at the bottom of the introductory page on the site, to send in your records of bees and wasps if you would like. Once received, the records will go to BIS, the Biodiversity Information Service, which is the Local Records Centre for Powys.
I have used mostly Latin names for the species. Recently, bees have had common names assigned to them, so when possible I will add these. However, some solitary wasp species do not have common names, so please bear with it.
The photos were taken by myself, unless credited otherwise. This website is not affiliated to any other website or organisation.
Thanks, Janice :) 12 August, 2020
Vice County Recorder for bees and wasps, VC42 and VC43, Breconshire and Radnorshire
I'm really pleased that I managed to get some reasonable photos yesterday while the sun was out. Taken in Llandrindod Wells, this male and female Hairy-Footed Flower bees (Anthophora plumipes) were really busy - once again they were enjoying lungwort flowers. Get it planted in your garden!
These lovely spring images of Tawny Mining bee (left), Nomada signata male, (middle) and Hairy Footed Flower bee male, have all been captured by Keith Noble from Breconshire. The Nomada signata is the cleptoparasite to Tawny Mining bee, entering the nest holes to lay their own eggs (females of course).
It is surprising that more records aren't made of this Nomada species, considering how frequently Andrena fulva is recorded. Possibly, as it's more easily identified - there is nothing else quite like it.
Keep your eyes peeled as the bee and wasp season has now begun!
Bumblebees as well as other insects remain on the wing during this very mild October. Female and queen bumblebees quite commonly seen daily in the garden in the last week. The hind tibial corbicula (pollen basket) is easily seen in this photo.
Bombus terrestris queen
It's getting late into the bee year now, and the males are around, looking to mate with new queens and female solitary bees. Above left and middle; Lasioglossum sp, Lasioglossum albipes/calceatum from Richard Knight in Radnorshire and male Bombus lapidarius from my garden.
This huge ichneumon wasp was captured by Amy Bettinson in Breconshire apparently ovipositing into a tree trunk. Ichneumon are parasitoid wasps that are generally difficult to identify to species, although there is a very good guide at British ichneumonid wasps ID guide (naturespot.org.uk).
Now is a good time to see cuckoo bumblebees (although they have been around for a few months too). Richard Knight captured this one on the right, on knapweed in his Radnorshire garden. Without close examination, it's difficult to know which species it is.
This Melitta haemorrhoidalis was photographed by Keith Noble from the Breconshire area. The common name given to it by Steven Falk is Gold-tailed Melitta. They are diagnostic to genus by an expanded area between the claws. It is one of the most widespread Melitta and can be a localised species, found in good numbers.
This lovely little film was sent to me from the Presteigne area of Powys, taken by Anne Belgrave showing the busy behaviour by the Megachile, leaf-cutter bees in her garden.
Megachile ligneseca by Keith Noble (Brecon)
These large leaf-cutter bees are often found nesting in rotten areas of wood and can nest in small aggregations if the area is big enough.
There have been recent sightings of Bombus monticola in Breconshire in the last week, as shown below. BIS, Biodiversity Information Service, would like to have as many records as possible, so do send them in to them or to myself by submitting to the website.
Also, a lovely female Hairy-footed Flower bee, Anthophora plumipes has been recorded in the Howey area of Radnorshire by Louise Bell.
Bombus monticola, Gareth Rees Anthophora plumipes, Louise Bell
This Nomada marshamella was recorded by Dorothy Baynham in Radnorshire. It is a nice and easily identifiable species that can be done in the field. June means that there may be some different species on the wing. I will be walking in the Blorenge this week and look forward to photographing some bees and wasps.
Nomada species and Halictus
Nomada species and Halictus rubicundus
It's May already and the usual suspects have been recorded so far in my garden in Radnorshire. The Red Mason bees are out and it won't be long until the cleptoparasites are out too. Here are a couple of photos from my garden. It just shows the importance of dandelions!
Andrena fulva female and Nomada signata (keith Noble). Red tailed bumblebee, Bombus lapidarius (Dorothy Baynham).
Bees are emerging all of the time now and there are plenty of bees around in the warming sunshine.
Do keep your sightings coming in - you can message the blog in 'Contact' on the front page. Some bees are emerging at different times than is sometimes written in the literature - this is only a guide as bees depend upon weather conditions which can be really localised and variable.
In the garden today, 2nd April, this female Andrena species (possibly A. helvola) was searching for pollen. Other species recorded around Llandrindod was the lovely, and easy to identify Andrena haemorrhoa with nesting holes nearby.
Andrena female, Andrena haemorrhoa and nesting mining bee site by Dot Baynham.
The lovely spring-like weather has certainly brought out the bees this weekend. Hairy-Footed Flower bees, Anthophora plumipes female and male using Lungwort to feed upon and the sand loving aggregation have been visited by Keith Noble again. They do look like Yellow-legged mining bee, Andrena flavipes now, rather than Sandpit Mining bee, Andrena barbilabris.
Hairy-Footed Flower bee female, left, Keith Noble, Breconshire. Male, Hairy-Footed Flower bee, middle, Janice, Radnorshire. Right, Andrena flavipes, Keith Noble. One of a large aggregation.
The solitary bees are starting to emerge in mid Wales, and Keith Noble has recorded Andrena bicolor female (Gwynnes' Mining bee) on the left and middle, and also, what may be Andrena barbilabris (Sandpit Mining bee) on the right, at a sandy site - both species recorded in the Breconshire county.
It is not possible for me to say for certain, but there is a high chance that this species is A. barbilabris, although I would need to examine a specimen to be sure.
The hornet nest from last year in the bird box is pictured above. I finally got up the courage to open the lid just in case there was a hibernating female inside! All seemed quiet, I'm pleased to say.
There have not been any signs of bees or wasps yet locally and no reported sightings coming in. There is a flowering Viburnum and Mahonia in my garden at the moment, so at least there is a nectar source if anything emerges. It remains generally mild with average temperatures in Radnorshire hovering around 8 c.
I'm looking forward to finding plenty of aculeates in the year ahead.
In mid October Richard Knight photographed this female Lasioglossum species in his Radnorshire garden. Two days ago there was a Buff-tailed bumblebee collecting pollen from Salvia in my garden too. It seems late for this part of mid Radnorshire compared to past years. The Hornets in the garden have finished in the nest now, and it appears to have been 'raided' by Blue Tits.
Will this be the last of the bee sightings for this year? Time will tell.
Autumnal sightings - September 2021
Worker bumblebees are still on the wing and gathering pollen today in between showers. I presume that there's an active nest still somewhere close by.
It's currently 15c in my part of Radnorshire and the sun is out. The queen bumblebees are about too and the hornets are busy around the box in the garden. With no sign of frost yet, the nest will continue to be active and there are other insects about too to provide for them. Other folks are reporting plenty of bees and Keith Noble has recorded hornets too. I filmed the hornets in the garden last week and will download it soon to the website.
Photographs left to right from Phil Bennett: Buff-tailed queen and Ivy mining bee in Radnorshire. European Hornet: Keith Noble, Breconshire
European Hornet: Keith Noble
The European Hornets in my garden are increasingly active. I presume that the nest is getting quite big inside this bird box.
Queen Buff-tailed bumblebees are out and about in Radnorshire
Photographs: Keith Noble
These fabulous photos above by Keith in Brecon, show solitary species of wasp, which will take invertebrate prey. The wasp top right, has a hoverfly in its grasp. This spell of sunny and warm whether is extending the time that these wasps are able to carry on this autumn. Female solitary wasps will provision a chamber that is either aerial or ground/plant stem with another insect that the larvae will eat upon hatching. They will often then pupate, emerging next year as an adult wasp.
There are some Hornets nesting in my garden at the moment and they were busy cruising around at the weekend, hunting insects. One Red Admiral was taken and I observed it having its wings removed, before the Hornet flew with it to the nest (in a bird box).
This photograph above is of a hoverfly that mimics a Hornet, called Volucella zonaria. There is another similar species as well, but its patterning is slightly different. Photo: Donna Chapman, Cwmdauddwr, Radnorshire.
The photos above were taken recently by Keith Noble in the Brecon area. Top left and middle are Lasioglossum albipes/calceatum. Difficult to separate without a very good close look, this species is typically found from late summer into the autumn. This Nomada species on the right seems quite late, although some species will have two, possibly three broods throughout the year.
Coelioxys species: Richard Knight
This 'sharp-tailed bee, Coelioxys species, was recorded by Richard Knight from his garden in Radnorshire. There are 7 species found in the UK and they are cleptoparasites of Hairy-footed Flower bees and Leaf-cutter species.
I have seen them around the bee hotels in my garden (probably looking for Leaf-cutter nests). Usually they need to be examined closely to identify properly, but I suspect that this is Coelioxys inermis.
The females will use the tip of the abdomen to pierce the cell of the host to lay their eggs within.
The highlight this month is this male Long-horned bee, discovered at a new, 4th site in Radnorshire. Discovered on a grass verge, it was close to suitable grassland habitat.
Eucera longicornis male: photograph Darylle Hardy
This lovely Gasteruption wasp (below) was found in Breconshire by Keith Noble recently. They are parasites of solitary bee species and can be seen 'lurking' around the nest sites. Females have long ovipositors, to insert into the nest and deposit their eggs.
These images were captured this week in Radnorshire. The male Long-horned bee, Eucera longicornis is classed as Notable A (Falk, 1991). It has now been recorded at 3 sites in the county, and is so distinctive by its long antennae (only the male has this feature). They are a solitary nesting species, although they will nest in aggregations.
Long-horned bees have been recorded in Breconshire as well.
Hylaeus species inside a sheepskull. Photo: Keith Noble
Hylaeus bees. Photos: Keith Noble
These are very small bees and can be mistaken as flies due the their small size. They store the pollen collected in a crop, internally, not on the hind tibia or scopal hairs as is usual for most bee species. They are generally a hairless and aerial nesting species, using plant stems, vertical slopes and walls. The male on the left is most likely Hylaeus hyalinatus. The orange coloured antennae are visible (on the underside). There are 12 species in the UK and 700 worldwide.
Keith recorded these little bees in the Breconshire area. They are common and widespread.
Blue Mason bees, Osmia caerulescens, have been recorded 4 times in the Breconshire county and there are no records in Radnorshire thus far. The bee was recorded in 1991, 1993, 2018 and 2019 by reliable recorders and this year it has been photographed by Keith Noble in his Breconshire garden. They are using the bee hotel canes to nest in. The bees above are females.
Eyes peeled, recorders in Radnorshire!
The Stelis phaeoptera, also recently named the Plain Dark bee by Steven Falk, is flying about the Osmia leaiana nests again this year. Listed as RDB3 in 1987 and Vulnerable in 1991 (Falk), this lovely little cleptoparasite is quite distinctive to look at - and has only been recorded in Radnorshire twice before. There are no records for Breconshire yet.
The Mason bees, Osmia bicornis, are out of the tubes in my garden and bringing in pollen for the next generation. They will provision a cell with an egg and pollen store before closing the cell and sealing it with masticated earth/soil. They are visiting the Catmint flowers in the garden and some thistles mostly.
Female O.bicornis have 2 prongs on the face which they use to tamp down the soil when sealing up the nests. These prongs are visible with a hand lens and diagnostic features of this species (females only).
I have managed to get this photo today (below) of a female and a facial prong is visible.
Osmia caerulescens, Blue Mason bee Photos: Keith Noble
The set of images above were recorded by Keith in his garden in the Brecon area, Vice County 42. May and June is the time to start seeing Osmia species in Mid Wales, so this is a lovely record. Distinctive by its green eyes, the male is sexually dimorphic from the female whom is darker and without the coloured eyes - they do look very different from each other. Osmia have a 'rounded' appearance to the body, have 2 submarginal cells in the forewing and are differentiated from Megachile species by having an arolium between the claws (a little 'pad'). Mason bees are aeriel nesting and may use bee hotels. Keep a look out for them - especially as some warmer weather is on the way.
This lovely set of photographs above are courtesy of Keith Noble from the Brecon area.
Left and middle: Melecta albifrons, Mourning bee. Right:Halictus rubicundus, Orange-legged Furrow bee.
Melecta albifrons is the cleptoparasite of Anthophora plumipes, or Hairy-footed Flower Bee. It enters the nest chamber of the Anthophora to lay its own eggs which will hatch to exploit the food supply and also will eat the larvae of the host.
Halictus rubicundus is a ground nesting species of bee that can nest either singly or in aggregations. They are common and widespread throughout the UK.
There is an aggregation of Andrena haemorrhoa on a bank in the garden at the moment, that interestingly were in the same place last year. I have noted around 30 bees around the area, travelling to and from their nesting chambers. The female above is cleaning her antennae.
This great photo above was sent in by Stephen Mullard from Radnorshire. It is Andrena nitida, and it appears to really be enjoying this dandelion. May is now host to the No Mow May campain, from Plantlife. By leaving your lawn, or some of it without cutting, it will allow simple flowers to bloom which helps our pollinating insects to collect much needed nectar.
Look at the length of this tongue! Garden bumblebee, Bombus hortorum is known to have a long tongue and that can be seen really well in this photo that I took this week in the garden.
May already! It remains generally cool in my area of Radnorshire. Frost prevails in the mornings and there have been sleet showers here in the mid-week. However, the bees are making the most of the sun when it appears. The first male Osmia bicornis, the Red Mason bee, has been logged in the garden this week, so nature carries on regardless.
Records this week have included Tree bumblebee, Red-tailed bumblebees, Common Carder, Ashy Mining bee and Early bumblebee.
Photos: Left top, Osmia bicornis. Top right, Tree bumblebee (melanic form) D. Baynham
Bottom left, Red-tailed bumblebee. Bottom right, Early bumblebee, D. Baynham.
There have been some nice records coming in this past week. Andrena cineraria is still about, and this lovely capture below, was made recently by Phil Bennett in his garden.
The tri-coloured species of Nomada, featured below, far left, could be one of three. Either Nomada ruficornis ( which has a two-pronged mandible tip), Nomada flava or Nomada panzeri. All look similar in the field. They require a check with a hand lens, and it is essential to check the mandibles to be sure, to identify N. ruficornis. Thank you Dorothy Beynon.
The season is moving on, and the emergence of Red Mason bees, as pictured centrally below, is a sign of this. Once again, a visitor to Phil's Radnorshire garden.
This beauty of a queen German wasp, Vespula germanica, (far right) was photographed by Ben Mullen. Queens are especially distinctive with the black abdominal bands produced into large backward-directed triangles with black circles on each side. The nests of this species can be very large, and can persist until winter, as discovered by Bob Dennison who had a very large nest in his roof space last year.
There are 9 species of social wasp in the UK including the Hornet, Vespa crabro. The invasive, non-native Asian Hornet Vespa velutina, is unfortunately being recorded now in the UK, but mostly in southern English counties at present.
The female Nomada signata, the Broad-banded nomad bee was seen recently alongside the host, Andrena fulva, the Tawny Mining bee. It's good to see that this rarely recorded Nomada is being recorded in Mid Wales. Remember, that the yellow markings on the propodeum at the back of the bee is diagnostic of this species.
Andrena fulva Nomada signata, (both females). Photographs, Keith Noble
Recorded in Breconshire.
Spring Solitary Species To See and Record
Ashy Mining bee, Andrena cineraria, photo: Keith Noble
Following on from Keith's photos, captured this week, I would like to encourage folk to keep a look out for these easy to identify solitary species of bee. They will be on the wing now and are both widespread and common. The Ashy Mining bee will be found nesting in the ground, often in aggregations and favour bare soil patches. Male and female are similar, although males will look slightly slimmer than females.
Distribution Map of Ashy Mining bee, Breconshire and Radnorshire, Courtesy of BIS, 2020
Tawny Mining bee, Andrena fulva, photo by Keith Noble.
These distinctive, furry females (as above) are on the wing from March and are quite unmistakable. Males are slimmer and less red, with hairy 'banding' on the abdomen which is not as dense and will have projection at the base of long mandibles (Falk, 2015). There are six other male solitary bees that also have these projections too, so it isn't diagnostic.They will nest together in the ground in aggregations and are generally frequently recorded over much of lowland Britain.
Distrubution Map of Tawny Mining bee, Breconshire and Radnorshire. Courtesy of BIS, 2020
These 3 colourful solitary bees were recorded in the Breconshire garden of Keith Noble. What stunning little species these are!
Left to right:
Gwynne's Mining bee, Ashy Mining bee, Tawny Mining bee, (all female).
Andrena bicolor, Andrena cineraria, Andrena fulva
The above photos are not bees this time but 'bee flies'. There have been many sightings recently and I thought I would make a short post about them. The two species that I have recorded in my garden are pictured above. Bombylius canescens is usually recorded from May onwards and is classed as Nationally Scarce. Bombylius major, is our commonest UK bee fly, and is around earlier in spring.
Bee flies lay their eggs into the nests of solitary mining bees. To do this (in at least some of the species) the adult females collect dust or sand at the tip of their abdomen, using it to coat their eggs, which is thought to provide camouflage and perhaps also add weight to them. There are 12 recorded species in the British Isles.
The entomologist Steven Falk has a great online site about the bee fly species found in the UK. Do have a look at his Flickr page and if you see them, please record them and send the records to BIS or your local Records Centre.
There have been some lovely recent contributions to the Radnorshire and Breconshire database this week, as captured above.
From left to right:
A Hairy-Footed flower bee female, Gwynne's Mining bee female, and a queen Buff-tailed bumblebee. Thanks to Phil Bennett, Dorothy Baynham and Ben Mullen.
The season is progressing, with the recent warm weather, only to be plunged back into winter again this weekend. This is not good news for the solitary species, although bumblebees fare better in the cold due to their furry bodies. They will possibly be able to carry on feeding, unless it gets very cold and icy of course.
This photograph was sent to me by Phil Bennett, from his garden in Radnorshire this week. It is a Nomad bee. It is commonly called Fabricius' Nomad bee, (Nomada fabriciana), a cleptoparasite of Gwynnes' mining bee ( Andrena bicolor). There are other mining bees that it will target, but mostly this species. This bee has two broods, one in spring and another in late summer.
Nomada fabriciana, female. Photo Phil Bennett
The female Nomad bees will enter the nests of the host bee and lay its own eggs. Once their larvae hatch they will consume the host's egg and the provisions for it themselves. The Nomad bee will eventually pupate and emerge as an adult from the nest chamber.
25 March 2021
Early bumblebee Male Andrena species
Although cool in the breeze today, where the sun was out, the bees were busy in the garden. Radnorshire.
21 March 2021
This amazing image has been sent to me today from Keith Noble from the Brecon area. The Andrena female has a Stylops attached to it. Stylops are endoparasites that will use the body of, solitary bees, usually Andrena species, to carry out their life cycle.
Mating occurs on the body of the host, the male inseminating the female through the brood canal which opens between her head and prothorax. Males are winged and females wingless, so presumably this is a male in Keith's photograph, looking to mate with a female stylops that is emerging from the body of the Andrena.
The eggs hatch inside the female’s body into minute triungulin larvae; these emerge from the brood canal and rapidly disperse using their simple legs; they can sometimes be found on flower-heads.
Once they have located a new host they burrow through its cuticle, moult into an apodous stage (basically, it is an animal without legs) and then feed on its haemolymph. Pupation occurs inside the host’s body, with larval skins forming a puparium, (Royal Entomological Society, 2021).
If you have a look at Stylops images online, there are many pictures of female Stylops insitu in the body of the host bee, protruding from the abdominal tergites. Great stuff!
21 March, 2021
The solitary species are coming out from their winter slumber and being recorded from all over the country now. Here is a pretty common species of Andrena or mining bee (this is a female) and it is reasonably easy to identify. Andrena haemorrhoa, or Orange-tailed Mining bee female has a small red tip (orange coloured hairs) to the end of the 'tail'. The thorax hair is a dark, 'foxy' red, and dark coloured hind tibia. It is difficult to see the hind leg in this photograph with the amount of pollen that this female has unfortunately.
Andrena haemorrhoa female
The male has lighter coloured hind legs, and a hair covered front face. Do look out for this species, anytime now. Males will have a brown hair, tipped tail-end. The abdomen is fairly hairless in both the male and female. The female will dig a chamber in the ground and it possible to see their nest sites as they usually leave evidence of their mining. They may nest together in aggregations.
Above, evidence of typical mining bee nesting activity.
Andrena haemorrhoa, female. Orange-tailed MIning bee.
As this species is fairly easy to identify, it would be good to have more records for mid Wales. Please do submit your records.
The photographs above have been sent in to me from Keith Noble. These are female Hairy-Footed Flower bees, that he photographed in his Breconshire garden some years ago. Thank you to Keith. Once again they are using Pulmonaria flowers.
This male Hairy-Footed Flower bee (Anthophora plumipes) was photographed by Keith Noble in a garden near to his home very recently, in the Brecon area. As you can see it is enjoying the nectar from a Pulmonaria (lungwort) plant. This sighting is five days earlier than Keith has recorded them previously.
These are solitary bee species, but can nest in aggregations in soft rock and soft mortar, and the nests are often vertically placed. The males are different than females - the females are black with orange legs (BWARS, 2021). Males have yellow markings to the face and long hairs to the mid lower leg. You can see these hairs in the photograph above.
This species has been recorded 27 times in the Breconshire County since 2015. There are three records so far for Radnorshire, and they were all submitted in 2020.
Do keep looking around any Pulmonaria (lungwort) plants at this time of year for any small, furry and fast flying little creatures - and you may have a Hairy-Footed Flower bee!
The weekend was so warm that solitary species of bee have been reported around the UK and Keith Noble photographed this Buffish MIning bee,Andrena nigroaena in the Brecon area. This can be one of the first soitary species to emerge in spring and there have been reports of a probable second emergence in mid summer, (BWARS, 2021). They nest singly in the ground and will take nectar from a range of flowers.
It has been another sunny day here in Mid Wales and there were plenty of queen bumblebees in the garden feeding up on the crocus flowers. Four species were around today and my photos are below.
Top left: White-tailed bumblebee, Bombus lucorum, right: Early bumblebee, Bombus pratorum
Middle left: Tree bumblebee, Bombus hypnorum, right: Early bumblebee
Bottom: Buff-tailed bumblebee, Bombus terrestris
This queen Buff-tailed bumblebee queen was finding plenty of nectar in the crocus this week. The first date of bumblebee in my Radnorshire garden, was sighted on 22nd February. There have been a few records from the Brecknock area this week too.
Bee species are being reported from all over the country now. Also some reports of Andrena species of solitary bee and Hairy-Footed Flower bees too, enjoying the sun and warmer temperatures. The (Anthophora plumipes) Hairy-Footed Flower bees do like Pulmonaria flowers, so if you have a plant in flower, do keep a look out.
As next week unfolds the forecast remains unsettled in Mid Wales, however, it could be improving a little by next weekend. Some dry and less chilly conditions are possible, so do keep your eyes open for any emerging queen bumblebees.
As the month, rolls on, there have been no sightings of bees or wasps reported to me yet. There have been bumblebee queens recorded in Cornwall, however, so once it warms up here and the sun comes out, there may be some activity. Bob Dennison has been removing the large social wasp nest, where he has found some wasps still alive - possibly hibernating queen wasps (see the Recordings page). In the meantime, stay safe and warm.
As winter beckons, there have been no recent sightings of bees or wasps that I have been made aware of in the Radnorshire or Breconshire areas in the last few weeks.
I thought that it would be useful to start thinking about spring - it's only three weeks until the shortest day after all.
I intend to highlight some species over the next few months, that will often emerge from February onwards.
Initially there are emerging bumblebees and the solitary bee species are usually seen a little later - depending on the weather of course.
The bees that I will focus on are identifiable in the 'field' without too much difficulty. Looking through the data set held by the Biodiversity Information Service (BIS) there are very few records for some species that should be commonly found, but have not been recorded in this area of mid Wales - so let's change this!
To begin with - here's one of the first bumblebees that is seen in the new year, the Buff-tailed bumblebee, Bombus terrestris.
Buff-tailed bumblebee, Bombus terrestris
These are one of the first large queen bumblebees to be seen in the early spring, anytime from February onwards, usually. They are often seen flying low to the ground, possibly searching for a suitable site to begin a new nest for the year. Initially after emerging, she will be looking for nectar sources too, to increase her diminished body weight after being dormant over the winter months. This is why it is important to have plants, shrubs or trees that flower throughout the year.
This large, queen bumblebee is distinctive as she has two yellow bands and a buff coloured tail. The yellow is usually quite dark, not lemon coloured and the tail is buff brown, hence the name!
Buff-tailed bumblebee, Bombus terrestris
The queen will have mated the year previously and is therefore already fertile. She will establish a nest, often using an old mouse/vole nest in the ground. There, she will lay eggs and raise the grubs with a mix of pollen and nectar in the nest, until they emerge as adult female bees, often in April. The queen will lay eggs that produce male bumblebees later in the year.
Currently, there are 134 records of this 'common' bumblebee in Breconshire in the BIS data base and only 18 in Radnorshire.
I'm still thinking about spring and here is some information about the White-tailed bumblebee, Bombus lucorum.
This large queen bumblebee is seen from March onwards usually, seeking nectar to build her resources to start a new nest and begin to lay eggs.
As with all bumblebee species, she will have mated the previous year and is already fertile. She will lay eggs that develop into females or workers initially, and they are produced from fertilized eggs. Male bumblebees are produced later in the year and are formed from an unfertilized egg (Goulson, 2010).
Here, the explanation gets quite complex. Females are diploid, with two copies of each chromasome and produce eggs by meiosis (as humans do). Males are haploid in which each gamete has just one copy and they do not require sperm to be produced.
Identification of White-tailed bumblebee queens is reasonably straight forward. They have two lemon yellow coloured bands and a white tail. The queen will be large, and a similar size to the Buff-tailed bumblebee.
White-tailed bumblebee queens. Top left Copyright: Ian Collins
It is possible to distinguish the Buff-tailed and White-tailed queens apart by looking at the yellow band colour and the tail colour, (buff coloured and white respectively). As previously written, Buff-tailed bumblebee queens have a 'dirtier' yellow banding.
It begins to get a bit more tricky once the female workers are about, and they are more difficult to separate. The tail colour in female workers may be white in both species and it is for this reason that when recording them, it is easier to note them all as Bombus lucorum agg. which is short for aggregate.
There are a few white-tailed species of bumblebee in the UK, with two yellow bands. These include species that are less commonly recognised; Bombus cryptarum and Bombus magnus which are more of an upland species and more western in their distribution. The easiest way to separate them would be by using DNA analysis.
Another white-tailed species with two yellow bands is Bombus soreensis, which tends to be a little smaller on average than Bombus lucorum. It can be reliably separated from Bombus lucorum by examining grooves on the mandibles in female bees and genitalia in males (BWARS, 2020). Again, another reason for recording two banded, white tails as Bombus lucorum agg.
Currently, there are only 8 records in Radnorshire and 78 for Breconshire.
Very Early or Very Late?
Ashy Mining Bee, Andrena cineraria Liz Howes
8 November, 2020
Incredibly, this Ashy Mining Bee has been recorded this week by Liz Howes in Glasbury, near to Hay-on-Wye. This species of solitary mining bee is usually seen in April, May and June. It is unusual to find them much later than August, however, Steven Falk, (2020). does note that they are increasingly being recorded in October on occasion. Even so, a record in November is quite late. This will be due to climate change and warmer temperatures in the autumn. This species will overwinter as adults within the natal cells (BWARS). So the question is this. Is it a late individual or a very early spring emergent?
2 November 2020
We are Into November already and there isn't too much happening on the bee or wasp front. Most social wasp colonies will be finished or probably not too far off coming to the end of their productivity. New queen social wasps will be finding somewhere to overwinter quietly; for instance in a shed, outhouse, a crevice in a tree, or maybe even somewhere out of the way in our houses. Most species emerge in early summer and will begin to make a new nest. They will have mated in the autumn before, and are therefore already fertile.
New queen bumblebees follow a similar process. They will overwinter in the ground often, using an old mouse nest in a north facing bank. This ensures that she does not become too warm (due to their furry exterior) and emerge too early, before there are any plants in flower to take nectar from.
The solitary species of bee will follow a similar cycle, except that some species overwinter as adults, and some will be in a larval stage. They do not pupate into an adult until just before they emerge. Some species moult several times and will form a prepupa, at which stage they will spin a cocoon in which the adult bee will develop.
Buff-tailed bumblebee queen, Bombus terrestris, soon after emerging in spring
Thoughts of Spring
With winter around the corner, my thoughts turn to spring and planning ahead. Now is the perfect time to plot a new flower bed or plant something with pollinators in mind.
With our climate changing and winters being less cold on average in the UK, and the possibility of early emergence, it's important to help our pollinator species by having something in flower throughout the whole calendar year. This is achievable by growing shrubs in the garden that will flower in the darker days.
Shrubs that are great for colour and scent are Mahonia sp, flowering currant (Ribes sp) and the winter flowering Jasmine, Jasminum nudiflorum.
There is a winter flowering Daphne that has a lovely sweet smell called 'Cobhay Debut' Daphne bholua, and it is a lovely shrub for any pollinators that may be around as well as cheering us up as well. There are hardy varieties of Viburnum such as Viburnum bodantense and V. fragrans, and a winter flowering Honeysuckle called Winter Beauty Lonicera purpusii.
If there isn't room for a shrub, even planting early flowering crocus or snowdrops in a pot will be helpful for early emerging bees.
Of course trees are useful nectar sources for bees in spring and some that flower early include the willow species, cherries, Blackthorn Prunus spinosa and a little later Hawthorn, Crataegus monogyna.
For more ideas and suggestions about planting for pollinators, follow the links below:
Female Nomada species
So, now is the time for action and enthusiasm as it really isn't going to be long before the days begin to lengthen again (7 weeks to the shortest day) and hopefully not much longer before we will see our first bumblebee on the wing.
Over the next few quieter months, I will be focusing on different genera of bees and wasps and explore their morphological differences, identification features and nesting habits.
25 October - There is now a new page, found in 'Recordings', at the top right hand side next to the Homepage. Click on the new page to access a really interesting soundbite made of a social wasp nest 'purring' in a roof space in Radnorshire.
Recent records received from Gareth Rees of honey bee, Apis mellifera, show the longitudinal first cell in the forewing nicely. They were seen and photographed in the churchyard at Defynnog in Breconshire in the early autumn.
The longitudinal cell, that is diagnostic of honey bee can clearly be seen below.
Photo credit: Gareth Rees
October 13 and the morning has been dry and sunny. Not one bee seen, even in the sunshine. Some hoverflies were around though, such as this Eristalis pertinax pictured below, which are very good mimics of the honey bee, Apis mellifera.
The social wasp above is possibly Vespula vulgaris or Vespula germanica. They are difficult to separate in the field unless you can see the facial patterning.
September 11 2020 and it's been a sunny day in mid Wales. I'm still looking for Ivy Mining bees, and I have been stalking the ivy flowers in Rhayader, around the town and along the lanes. Alas not one in to be found (not by myself anyway). However, the social wasps and bumblebees were enjoying the ivy, plus some smaller aculeates, Lasius niger, the black ant. This Buff-tailed, Bombus terrestris worker (botton left), on Cosmos flowers in my garden was a female worker. Also the White-tailed, Bombus lucorum agg. (top right) on the ivy, is a female worker. This is evident due to their size. New queens will be much larger, approximately double the size of these two. As the female bumblebees are still around, even in mid October, it may be possible that there could still be an active nest in the vicinity, although neither had any pollen on their hind tibia, so they may just be feeding up on the last remnants of nectar available as individuals. Climate change is altering the seasons and it will be interesting to see whether anyone records active bumblebees throughout the whole winter period in mid Wales. Bumblebees and active social nests have been reported in southern areas England over the winter, for the last few years.
8 September 2020, and I'm still looking for the Ivy Mining bee, Colletes hederae. No luck yet, but they may still be about. This social wasp, above, is a male Vespula species. It was still feeding on the nectar of the ivy flowers today. It won't be long now before the wasp nests will die off. This year's queen wasps will overwinter, to start a new colony next year. There are 9 species of social wasp including the Hornet, Vespa crabro.
Bombus lucorum, queen
September 27th - A queen White-tailed bumblebee, Bombus lucorum, was around in the sunshine. New queen bumblebees will mate before they go into hibernation for the winter. They will choose a site underground, often one that is north facing. It could be detrimental if the bee were to become warm in winter sunshine and this strategy should ensure that the bee will not come out of its dormant state too early. If the bees emerge before there are sufficient flowers and therefore nectar sources, they will struggle to survive and thrive.
Many bees and wasps are still on the wing in September and one species of bee that I always look for at this time of year are the Colletes hederae or Ivy Mining bee. They were finally recorded in Rhayader last year, on ivy flowers in a local cemetary by the local natural history group, Rhayader by Nature. Do read the post about the Ivy Mining bees recorded in the Brecon area by Keith Noble this month.
At the time of writing, I am still looking out for flowering ivy and hoping for sunny weather that will help to attract the bees to the flowers.
September 8th - Plenty of bees around today, as it has been warm this afternoon. This Common carder bumblebee, Bombus pascuorum, was enjoying the Cosmos flowers. These are one of the most regularly recorded bumblebee species in the UK and are often seen in gardens and urban areas as well as the countryside.
Bombus pascuorum, Common carder
Sharp-tailed bee, Coelioxys species
The afternoon (3rd) warmed up slowly and it was very nice to see this Sharp-tailed bee, Coelioxys species in my Radnorshire garden. These are cleptoparasitic bees (also described as cuckoo bees) of the Leaf Cutters, Megachile species. They will use the pointed area of their 'tail end' as a saw to open the cells of the Megachile nests to get into them, before laying an egg of their own. The genus of Coelioxys are difficult to identify to species level, unless closely examined.
Bilberry bumblebee, Bombus monticola
The bumblebee pictured above, was recorded by Phil Bennett at Y Foel, east of Garreg Ddu, Elan Valley, Radnorshire on 4 September. What beautiful bees these are. They are regularly seen around this area and do seem to like the bramble flowers along the Elan Valley Trail too. They are distinguished from the similar Red-tailed bumblebee, Bombus lapidarius, due to the redness of the tail end, which extends over 50% of the abdomen.