Tag Archives: Early Mining Bee

April Transformation

We had a very cold and somewhat wet March, and April has been somewhat similar, bright and sunny but often windy and chilly at the very same time. However, a huge change is underway and spring is unfolding by the day and the hour. Only a few days ago I was delighted to see a queen Carder Bee (Bombus pascuorum) sunbathing on some bare ground among the violets.

A furry queen Carder Bee, which usually appears later in spring than the much larger Buff-tailed Bumblebee queens. This is very much the spring bumblebee.
A furry queen Carder Bee, which usually appears later in spring than the much larger Buff-tailed Bumblebee queens. This is very much the spring bumblebee.

Particularly delightful is the sight of Tawny Mining Bees (Andrena fulva) on the wing.  Usually males appear first, but this year I spotted a big furry female days before the first male. This is officially our rarest species of solitary bee, and as a result the National Biodiversity Data Centre are looking for recorded sightings from the public.  Here is a link to the record sheet, which is easy to follow and make submissions on: http://records.biodiversityireland.ie/submit_records.php?fk=SolitaryBeesStandard&caching=cache

And here is a photo I got two days ago of a female Tawny Mining Bee:

25689979503_90c1d788e2And here is a photo of a male Tawny Mining Bee from the same day:

The male Tawny Mining Bee has a distinctive white 'beard'.
The male Tawny Mining Bee has a distinctive white ‘beard’.

There is a similar but smaller species of mining bee also appearing right now, the Early Mining Bee (Andrena haemorrhoa). The males are very similar to the Tawny Mining Bee males, but much smaller and lack the white beard. The female is very beautiful, and here is a photo of a female from the same day as the Tawny Mining Bee photos:

A pretty female Early Mining Bee. She is much smaller then the female Tawny Mining Bee, and about the size of a male of that species.
A pretty female Early Mining Bee. She is much smaller then the female Tawny Mining Bee, and about the size of a male of that species.

Also buzzing around the lawn, feeding on dandelion flowerheads is a small and somewhat sinister-looking wasp. This is in fact yet another bee, but for the mining bees it is indeed sinister, as it’s a parasitic bee which lays its eggs in the nests of mining bees, its grubs killing and eating the mining bee grubs. This particular species of cuckoo bee is Panzer’s Nomada (Nomada panzeri):

Panzer's Nomada
Panzer’s Nomada. There are many similar Nomada Bee species.

But it hasn’t all been bees. Despite the cold some sunny days have warmed up sheltered areas enough for migrating butterfly species to begin flying about. So far I have only seen two butterfly species, and this one is the second, a Peacock (Inachis io):

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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.