Tag Archives: bee

Some wildlife from Buckroney Nature Reserve

A Common Blue butterfly perched on young bracken.
A male Common Blue butterfly perched on young bracken.

Buckroney is unusual in that it is exclusively a sand dune nature reserve, and for this reason has very unique wildlife. The Common Blue (Polydommatus icarus) is a small but colourful butterfly, and the males will attack any flying insect entering their territory if it looks like it might be a rival butterfly. They will pretty much have a go at anything, even a bit of tissue waved at them. Like the one in the photo they like to perch on tall stems so they can survey the land.

Dunes have uniqe plants too, such as the beautiful low-growing and extremely spiky Burnet Rose (Rosa pimpinellifolia), which usually has cream yellow blooms but in places has pink or reddish, probably due to chemicals in the certain areas.

A thicket of Burnet Roses. Beautiful plants which also provide important nesting areas for some bird species.
A thicket of Burnet Roses. Beautiful plants which also provide important nesting sites for some bird species.

In many areas the sand is exposed, and this keeps the temperatures high in the dunes. Grasses tend to grow thinly, and in some places you find peculiar-looking ball-like objects. These strange things are actually a species of puffball fungus. In this case it is the Brown Puffball (Bovista nigrescens).

The Brown Puffball doesn't look all that brown, yet. But soon it will. It's about the same size as a cricket ball.
The Brown Puffball doesn’t look all that brown, yet. But soon it will. It’s about the same size as a cricket ball.

But for me the most interesting find on the dunes was a collection of about forty little mounds of sand with holes in their tops making them seem like volcanoes. I knew they had to belong to bees, but when a bee did show up it was tiny, but it entered the little mound. This species, which was new to me, is one of the Lasioglossum bees, which are a type of Sweat Bee. In the tropics they cause great annoyance by drinking sweat from people’s skins – but at least they don’t bite! However, in Ireland they are not a problem at all.

A tiny female Sweat Bee perched on her nest mound. She stocks her nest with pollen for a larva to feed on over the summer, autumn and winter months, until it emerges as an adult next spring.
A tiny female Sweat Bee perched on her nest mound. She stocks her nest with pollen for a larva to feed on over the summer, autumn and winter months, until it emerges as an adult next spring.

 

 

Meanwhile, back in Wicklow…

We are having a magnificent spring this year. The last two weeks have been almost completely sunny, with just the right amount of rainfall to keep the plants happy. Blooming dandelions are providing an extra amount of pollen for the bees, and there are many very happy bees around this year. And bees are not all aggressive stinging insects. Many are quite laid back, such as this female Early Mining Bee below. They seem to be quite inquisitive insects.

A female Early Mining Bee perched on my finger today. They can be very relaxed and curious insects if they don't feel threatened.
A female Early Mining Bee perched on my finger today. They can be very relaxed and curious insects if they don’t feel threatened.

But the mining bees don’t have it all their own way. There are also ‘cuckoo bee’, species which will lay their eggs in the mining bees’ nests but which do not themselves make nests. Instead the young of the cuckoo bee hatch out early and feed on the eggs and grubs of the mining bees. These cuckoo bees can be very handsome species, but look more like small wasps. The species photographed below seems to be Nomada panzeri, a species that parasitises the nests of Tawny Mining Bees.

A Nomada cuckoo bee flying close to ground level, beneath blades of grass just above the ground in search of mining bee nests.
A Nomada cuckoo bee flying close to ground level, beneath blades of grass just above the ground in search of mining bee nests.

But the insect you will probably be noticing most of all at this time of year is the male Orange-tip butterfly. This species only comes out for a few weeks in spring, usually appearing around mid-April and then completely disappearing usually before the end of the first week of June. They are extremely difficult to photograph, but somehow I got decent shots of two different individuals today.

A male Orange-tip basking in the late afternoon light today.

A male Orange-tip feeding on nectar along a hedgerow today. Females are all white with not even a little bit of orange colouring on them.
A male Orange-tip feeding on nectar along a hedgerow today. Females are all white with not even a little bit of orange colouring on them.

 

 

It’s a Bee thing…

As promised, a few words and photos about the Tawny Mining Bee, Andrena fulva. The first time this species was recorded in Ireland was 1927, in Kilkenny. But last year another, also an individual bee, was found in the same area, and it became only the second recorded in Ireland. But this species has been in my garden here in Wicklow for at least a number of years, I just didn’t know it was so rare in Ireland. And furthermore, there were loads of them, and they had dug hundreds of nests all over an aerated area of the lawn.

A female Tawny Mining Bee resting on a shrub just behind the complex of nest mines.
A female Tawny Mining Bee resting on a shrub just behind the complex of nest mines.

Only two weeks ago nesting Tawny Mining Bees were discovered in Kilkenny, so it is definitely a resident species. At the moment the National Biodiversity Data Centre is looking for any reports they can get of this bee, especially of nests. So here is a little bit about them.

Firstly, look out for their mines. There are a number of different species of mining bee found throughout Europe, and in Ireland, but none looks quite like the Tawny, and none builds nests exactly like it either. Firstly, the female bee is like a very small bumblebee, and her nest is basically a 2 cm high by 4 or 5 cm wide cone like a miniature volcano. The hole at the top is 1 cm wide. Most other mining bees are much smaller as are their nests.

Nest of the Tawny Mining Bee, as it usually appears on a lawn. These bees like rich soils, not sand.
Nest of the Tawny Mining Bee, as it usually appears on a lawn. These bees like rich soils, not sand. The flower behind it is a violet.

 

A female Twany Mining Bee at rest in her mine.
A female Tawny Mining Bee at rest in her mine.

If you have Berberus in your garden you are especially likely to have these bees, as they love Berberus blossom, which is due to open soon. Now, there are a number of mining bee species around, and another that also makes a volcano-like cone is the closely-related Andrena haemorrhoa. This bee is smaller than the Tawny Mining Bee, and the female has special hairs on her hind legs for collecting pollen, but which look like cowboy chaps.

Andrena haemorrhoa is a lovely little mining bee, and probably the most common in Wicklow, and Ireland. This female is collecting pollen from a daisy, which gives you an idea of how small she is. The male is even smaller.
Andrena haemorrhoa is a lovely little mining bee, and probably the most common in Wicklow, and Ireland. This female is collecting pollen from a daisy, which gives you an idea of how small she is. The male is even smaller.

One of the most interesting things about solitary bees (bees that don’t live in colonies) is that almost every species is targeted by a special parasite, a “cuckoo bee”. There are many different species and types of cuckoo bee, and like the cuckoo bird, they lay their eggs in the nests of their host species. But, most importantly, the larvae of the cuckoo bee eat the larvae of the hosts. Mining bees are usually parasitised by very small, wasp-like bees of the Nomada family. These bees are becoming rare across Europe due to pesticide use, but they are still thriving in Wicklow.

This species of cuckoo bee was searching all of the Tawny Mining Bee burrows and can be seen beside one in this photo. According to naturalist John Fogarty, it appears to be Nomada leucopthalma, a species which normally parasitises a different species of mining bee, Andrena clarkella. Anyhow, a little more research and we will know for certain.
This species of cuckoo bee was searching all of the Tawny Mining Bee burrows and can be seen beside one in this photo. According to naturalist John Fogarty, it appears to be Nomada leucophthalma, a species which normally parasitises a different species of mining bee, Andrena clarkella. Anyhow, a little more research and we will know for certain.