Tag Archives: “Tawny Mining Bee”

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.

Extinct Bee! – a slightly crazy story

Some of my readers and viewers might remember the photos I posted of the beautiful Tawny Mining Bee (Andrena fulva) I posted in early April: http://www.gardenofireland.com/workbook/?p=649

In the article I was highlighting the incredible complex of burrows on my front lawn, extending for many square metres. But there was an incredible twist to this story which I only became aware of last week when I received and read the autumn bulletin from the Biodiversity Data Centre in Waterford. Dr. Úna Fitzpatrick was delighted to inform readers that:

“The most exciting bee story of the year was the rediscovery of the extinct tawny mining bee (Andrena fulva) by Roger Goodwillie in Co. Kilkenny. This species has only ever been recorded from Co. Kilkenny and was last spotted by Arthur Stelfox in 1925.” (BI Issue 10, pg. 12.)

The ‘extinct’ Tawny Mining Bee. I took this photo in my garden in 2010.

Needless to say, this story took me by surprise and showed just how ignorant I was of the range and status of species in Ireland, because I had seen this species in my garden for many years and both my brother Trevor and I had been photographing them since April 2009. They were never particularly numerous, but this year there were over two hundred burrows of this ‘extinct’ bee in my lawn alone. And when I contacted Úna Fitzpatrick she was very, very surprised.

I also had video:

But that is why the work of the National Biodiversity Data Centre is so important. If you see something you think is unusual, or which might be rare, or even ‘extinct’, then visit the website www.biodiversityireland.ie and contact the relevant person and check out their records and submit your own.

 

Some strange burrows in the ground…

In Wicklow many people in the last week many people have been somewhat alarmed by the sight of strange holes in the their laws, on top of small volcano-like hills of earth. These hills vary from about three centimetres to 5 centimetres wide and about the same height.

Mysterious holes in the lawn, with mounds of soil around them, with a euro coin shown to give a sense of scale.

If you take the time to wait and calmly watch these little burrows you will eventually see the black furry heads of insects appear at the tops, and these insects will suddenly fly out of the holes, revealing ruby-red velvet-like bodies. These insects are Tawny Mining Bees, each a beautiful female. Although the holes (or mines) are currently appearing in clusters, due to breeding success in a remarkably warm and dry spring, the bees are actually solitary and only nest near each other due to convenient soil conditions.

The culprit, a beautiful female Tawny Mining Bee.

Speaking of bees, I was walking from Wicklow Town along the coast on Saturday afternoon and after three miles came across two biologists surveying bumblebees on the Murrough (the expanisve meadow that runs north from Wicklow along the coast). Aoife O’Rourke and Myles Newman are two PhD students from Trinity College, Dublin, and were carrying out a survey of bumblebees. They took my interruption of their work very kindly and we had an interesting chat. Aoife was telling me that there are actually about 80 known species of solitary bee in Ireland, and there is a lot of surveying still to do, which they were doing on behalf of the National Biodiversity Data Centre, located in Waterford. This institution is relatively new and is the first concerted effort in Ireland to unite all records of our natural heritage and make them available to the public. The Data Centre is looking for volunteer surveyors all across Ireland, and is studying a wide range of species and types of plant and animal. All records are welcome. I personally do an annual survey of butterflies for them from April until September. It’s great fun, and they provide plenty of support and training.

Biologists Myles Newman and Aoife O' Rourke surveying bees on the Murrough meadows on an unexpectedly blustery day this weekend.