The Butterflies and the Bees
A splash of Summer in this time of dark skies and windy weather.
Butterflies reproduce the way other animals do — sperm from a male fertilizes eggs from a female. Males and females of the same species recognize one another by the size, colour, shape and vein structure of the wings, all of which are species specific. Butterflies also recognize each other through pheromones, or scents. During mating, males use clasping organs on their abdomens to grasp females.
WSM (images 1-3.
A well stocked garden will be visited by most of the common bumblebees which most birders may be familiar with and able to identify. However, as my perennial collection began to grow, especially in the umbellifer category, so did the number of bees that weren’t bumbles. I had noticed Red Mason Bees collecting mud from my lawn edges where the hose pipe had wet the soil. I constructed a bee hotel out of an old ship’s oak timber, and they took up residence immediately. I began to look at other bees and found that the garden was alive with them, in their hundreds through the day. I am a real amateur when it comes to identification, but the new Field Guide to the Bees of Great Britain and Ireland has helped me to identify five of the commonest visitors. They are fascinating to watch, all are non-aggressive and will sit on your hand quite happily if you entice them with sugared water. Some garden centre bred fancy plants aren’t much use because they have extra petals at the expense of pollen producing apparatus, so old fashioned perennials and annuals are best. Once the insects know where their food and nest material is in your garden they will return constantly, often attracting other, rarer insects as well, those that usually parasitize bees…
Get into the garden this winter whilst you are waiting for the Spring sunshine, organise your perennials and enjoy a summer full of bee activity.
Wool Carder Bee Anthidium manicatum Often seen on Lamb’s Ear where the females collect hairs from plants like this with hairy leaves. Great Mullein and Yarrow are other favourite hairy-leaved flowers. The hairs are used to construct the cell walls of nests and for plugging the entrance. They will return to the plant many times and fly off with a ball of hairs between their legs. An attractive species and the sole representative of the genus in Britain.
Hairy Yellow-face Bee Hylaeus hyalinatus Very small solitary bees, around 5mm, mainly black with white or creamy markings on the face, antennae, legs and thorax. They nest in hollow plant stems or exiting holes in wood, walls or earth banks. Pollen, collected from plant such as umbellifers, is carried back to the nest in the crop and regurgitated, which is unusual for bees.
Red Mason Bee Osmia bicornis One of the early bee species to emerge around their nest holes on warm Spring days and will take up residence in bee houses and collect mud from the garden to plug up their nest holes. The males hatch before the females. Both have ‘horns’ on their faces which are used to manipulate mud into cells.
Patchwork Leafcutter Bee Megachile centuncularis Common on a variety of garden flowers and easily recognised, especially females, by the orange hairs around the abdomen. Another hole-nesting species and one which uses leaves, cut from plants such as willow-herb, Honeysuckles, Lilac and Ash etc.
Ashy Mining Bee Andrena cineraria Belonging to the largest bee genus in Britain, this one is the easiest to identify and is a spectacular insect in fresh condition. Quite regular but not especially common in some area, they use light soils to excavate colonies in south-facing slopes, either bare of vegetation or short-grazed.
Tony Broome. (images 4-10)