Many of you who visit us in the summer months will enjoy the butterflies and dragonflies that you can see around the nature trail, but how many of you have been on a bee hunt?
Start off in the car park and look for the volcano-like mounds of sandy soil on the banked edges…these are the nests of Pantaloon bees (Dasypoda hirtipes). Pantaloon bees get their name from the females’ oversized orange pollen brushes on their hind legs, which give the impression of a bee wearing pantaloons. She is a striking and distinctive creature, whilst the male is a little less flamboyantly attired.
Female Pantaloon bee (Anna Allum)
Those pantaloons are not just all for show; as well as collecting good amounts of pollen, those hind legs help them excavate sand as they reverse out of their burrows. Pantaloon bees are usually found on coastal or heathland habitats where the females can easily excavate their nests in the sandy soils. Whilst each female will tend their own nest, they’ll often nest in large aggregations which will be at their busiest in June through to August. Look for the males and females visiting flowers - they seem particularly fond of yellow composite flowers like Ragworts, Fleabane and Cat’s ear.
Once you’ve checked in with our team at the welcome hub, you’ll notice some tall yellow flowers in our courtyard garden. These are Inulas and they are popular with a very charming solitary bee – the Green-eyed Flower Bee (Anthophora bimaculate). There are large numbers of these bees nesting in the ground on the sandy slopes on our heathland trail and they visit the Inulas to gather nectar and pollen – they have a busy, hovering flight which gives them a noisy high-pitched buzz!
Green-eyed Flower Bee (Chris Prince)
Out on the trail as you head down the zig zag path the bright-yellow flowers of Fleabane will be busy with all sorts of pollinators; butterflies, hoverflies, bumblebees and solitary bees. Look for the Early Bumblebee (Bombus pratorum) who has both yellow and orange stripes.
Early Bumblebee (Chris prince)
In amongst the fleabane you might spot the pinkish flowers of Red Bartsia. Red Bartsia is actually partly parasitic, gaining extra nutrients from the roots of nearby grasses. The whole plant is tinged with red and the leafy flower spikes appear from June to September. Whilst it is not the most flamboyant of flowers it is the sole source of nectar and pollen for a species of solitary bee – the Red Bartsia Bee (Melitta tricincta). This is one of the ‘Blunthorn’ bees who have rather rounded tips to the antennae. We’ve only just added this bee to our species list; it has perhaps been here for many years but bee identification can be rather tricksy and maybe we’ve just not been looking for it previously. My next challenge is to take a better photograph!
Red Bartsia Bee (Anna Allum)
If you find any Honeybees (Apis mellifera) there is always a chance that you might find one of its predators – the Beewolf (Philanthus Triangulum). The Beewolf is a large solitary wasp, most often found in sandy areas where it digs its nest burrows. The female is a hard working creature; she must dig a nesting burrow up to a metre long and with up to 34 side burrows that end in brood chambers. The female must then go hunting, She preys on honey bees, paralysing them with a sting and carrying them back to her burrow. Up to six bees are placed in each brood chamber before a single egg is laid and the chamber sealed with sand. Once it has hatched the larva feeds on its stash of honey bees before spinning a cocoon, hibernating and then emerging as an adult in the spring. I spotted one catching her prey earlier this week.
Beewolf with Honeybee prey (Anna Allum)
The final bee on my bee hunt is I’m afraid only viewable on areas of the reserve that are not accessible to visitors, being right out on the ditches that criss cross the wetlands. The Yellow Loosestrife Bee (Macropis europaea) is dependent on the Yellow Loosestrife plant that grows along just a few of our ditch edges. The female will gather not only pollen but oil from the plant which she mixes to a paste to line the nest chambers that she has dug. This waterproofs the chambers so that her larvae can survive over winter even during flood conditions. Despite it being a notable species, we had not recorded it on site since 1993. I am delighted to say that when one of my lovely volunteers, Carey, and I went on our bee hunt this week we managed to find males and females of this species – it may be 18 years on but they seem to be doing ok.
Yellow Loosestrife Bee (Carey Lodge)
For any of you who are biological recorders and submit your sightings to iRecord then you'll be pleased to know that the data is now shared with the RSPB and your sightings will be added to our biological recording system so we're hoping you'll help us to continue adding to our 2000 and counting list of species that makes a home here at Pulborough Brooks.
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