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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.