I was taking a morning breather this week, which involves a quick lap of the garden after a burst of RSPB day-job work (just to let nature replenish the spirit - I find it better than caffeine), when I spotted a handful of flying insects scooting low over a large pile of dry, bare earth that is waiting to be turned into another Buttterfly Border.
Looking more closely, they looked rather like little wasps, with the tell-tale black-and-yellow banding on the abdomen.
Every now and then, they would land briefly, and scuttle towards any dark hole in the earth, before flying off again barely a second later. I had to be rather swift with the camera, but here is one, and you can see it is rather attractive with its reddish legs and red band and triangle towards the base of the abdomen.
It is actually only about a centimetre long, so is much smaller than the usual garden wasps, but otherwise looks pretty wasp-like, don't you think?
But it's actually... (wait for it)
...a bee! I kid you not (and if you already knew that, you can feel very smug). This is a female Painted Nomad Bee. And she's up to no good.
What she is doing is looking for the active nesting chambers of another type of bee called a Yellow-legged Mining Bee. If she finds a nest, the Nomad Bee will lay her own eggs inside. When they hatch, they kill and eat the egg or grub of the Mining Bee, and then take advantage of the stores of mixed pollen and nectar left by the Mining Bee mother.
There are about 34 species of nomad bee in Britain, as listed in the amazing Steven Falk/Richard Lewington Field Guide to the Bees of Britain and Ireland (which I heartily recommend). Most have these wasp-like markings, which is an excellent way of convincing birds to steer clear or them.
Although few nomad bees make it into Scotland or Ireland, with a warming climate some are expanding their range northwards, and in spring and summer they are worth looking for, either drinking nectar at flowers or roving warm, dry banks and sandy slopes where so many solitary bees nest.
So if you see what you think is a small wasp, look again, for it might be nature up to its clever tricks again.
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