Steve Smailes’ illustrated talk picked out some key species of solitary, mason, and mining bees in contrast with the social Honey Bee, Apis mellifera. About 250 species of bee do not produce honey and will colonise a bee hotel. Queen Honey Bees may live for several years. About 20 per cent of bumble bees are Cuckoo bees. There are also bee mimics including hover-flies, beetles, robber flies and hawkmoths.

We were introduced to the Hairy-footed Flower Bee, Anthophora plumipes, which emerges in February and can be seen taking nectar with its long proboscis from Primroses or Lung Wort. Generally, bees lose their bright colours as they age and their hairs drop out. Females emerge a couple of weeks later than males. Their black hind legs with orange hairs collect the pollen. They dig holes and cells for provision of pollen and invariably the female lays eggs in holes in walls. Melecta albifrons is the Cuckoo of Anthophora plumipes.

Mason bees “lek”, often on a wooden structure like a telegraph pole or tree trunk. Mason bees may be infected with the larvae of mason wasps. Often an orange ball of larvae can be found on a flower; the larvae waiting for a passing bee to become attached to, the bee then nesting in the ground. The larvae emerge as a Black Oil Beetle.

Steve covered several mason bees and their life cycles, including  Orange-vented and Blue Mason Bee, which are parasitised by parasitic wasps. Steve showed several photographs of leaf cutter bees that block cells in a bee hotel which they might share with Red Mason Bees. Wool Carder Bees are also solitary and highly territorial.  They may take possession of Lamb’s ear, often seen chasing off intruders, attacking them with the spikes at the end of its abdomen. Other enemies of bees include crab spiders and digger wasps.

Mining bees, of which there are 68 species, look like honey bees.  The Tawny Mining Bee is orange and seen in March to June, whereas the Ivy Mining Bee is seen from the end of August through September. Far less common is the Large Scabious Mining Bee that frequents Field Scabious and has distinctive pink paniers where pollen is collected. It has an ordnance tip to its abdomen. It’s Cuckoo equivalent is Nomada Armata . Perhaps the most remarkable bee that Steve covered was the Two Coloured Mason Bee or the “Broomstick Bee”. The bee is so named as it nests in old snail shells and carries sticks of dead grass to create a thatch roof over the shell.

Lucy Starling