Tag Archives: “Tawny Mining Bee”

April Adventures

Spring has been a little slow to take off – I only saw my first Swallow yesterday, and we only had our first reasonably warm and sunny weather over the last three days. There might not be swallows but the sunny weather has brought out some very impressive birds, most notably Buzzards (Buteo buteo). These birds are best described as either very large hawks or small eagles and should not be confused with vultures which are a very different kind of bird. Here are two photos I got of one bird recently:

Buzzards like bright, sunny days because they can use the sun to hide their approach. Their favourite prey are rabbits, especially in spring when there are abundant young rabbits around which lack the experience of older rabbits and can be easily caught. Buzzards will also eat rats and will scavenge roadkill. The famous cry of the hawk in American western movies is the same as the cry of the Buzzard.

Because it’s April I would like to remind you to keep an eye out for Ireland’s rarest known species of solitary bee, the Tawny Mining Bee (Andrena fulva). These bees make small volcano-like burrows on lawns and the female is stunningly beautiful. They have no sting and although you might see a number of bees in one area they are not working together as a colony but living single lives. Here is a photo of a female, and the yellow on her hind legs is not the bees colour but, in fact, pollen collected on special hairs:

The male is much less handsome and harder to tell apart from the males of other mining bee species, of which there are a few in Ireland. And here is a photo of a female in her mine. They often like to watch from the entrance and will duck their heads in if they think they’ve been spotted.

The female is about the size of a small worker bumblebee, but is large as mining bees go. There is a very similar bee species which is more common and not quite so red in colour, the Common Carder Bee (Bombus pascuorum) which is more robust-looking, and I here is a photo of that species so you can tell them apart:

Common Carder Bee feeding on vinca.

If you see a Tawny Mining Bee and especially if you find nests the National Biodiversity Data Centre will want to hear from you, and they can be contacted at this website which allows you to submit records, coordinates and photographs of anything and everything in the natural world, but rare creatures especially:

www.biodiversityireland.ie

 

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):

26226455051_292645e39b

April Warming and the Mining Bees

Saturday was the first decent warm sunny day in Wicklow this spring, and Tawny Mining Bees immediately appeared. Most of them were males, about twelve all newly hatched out, but there were two larger females giving them a wide berth.

My first photo of a Tawny Mining Bee this year, a male. The males don't look particularly distinctive and not exactly handsome and their sole objective is to mate with females, which gives them a peculiar 'culture' and distinctive weapns too, as you'll see.
My first photo of a Tawny Mining Bee this year, a male. The males don’t look particularly distinctive and not exactly handsome and their sole objective is to mate with females, which gives them a peculiar ‘culture’ and distinctive weapns too, as you’ll see.
It's not easy to get a good photo of a Tawny Mining Bee, particularly the males, but I finally got a decent headshot. Look at the size of those jaws!
It’s not easy to get a good photo of a Tawny Mining Bee, particularly the males, but I finally got a decent headshot. Look at the size of those jaws!

Many mammal species have horns and antlers which allow the males to fight off other males for the right to mate with females and pass on their genetics. Similarly male Tawny Mining Bees have enormous jaws to allow them win these fights. The female is a very different insect.

Looking like a miniature bumblebee, female Tawny Mining Bees have stout reddish furry bodies and distinctive black heads. They also rarely sit still.
Looking like a miniature bumblebee, female Tawny Mining Bees have stout reddish furry bodies and distinctive black heads. They also rarely sit still.
Under the wings you can see a very handsome shimmering abdomen covered in horizontal rows of red fur which glints in bright sunlight. A lovely insect. But they live only a very short time.
Under the wings you can see a very handsome shimmering abdomen covered in horizontal rows of red fur which glints in bright sunlight. A lovely insect. But they live only a very short time.

Tawny Mining Bees fly mostly for the month of April and not much beyond that. So for the next few weeks they will be very busy doing important work, which involves a huge amount of digging.