Thursday 24 March 2011

The Tawny Mining Bee

We've enjoyed a few really warm days this week. Bumblebee queens have come out of their winter refuges and are bumbling about looking for nesting sites and feeding on early flowers. Spring bees have also started to emerge, and one of the most striking, the Tawny Mining Bee, Andrena fulva, has also done so. I came across this fresh female flying about and finally settling on the leaf litter to bask. Females are covered on dense and bright orangey-red hairs, contrasting with their black heads and legs. The one below was sunbathing on the bird table in April last year after collecting some cherry pollen. As other Andrena species, females carry pollen in hair brushes on their back legs.
Males are so very different, slimmer, with a large white moustache and more obvious jaws:
This bee flies in a single generation, from late March to late May. The peak flight season on the Tawny Mining bee, April, coincides with flowering times of fruit trees and they can often be seen feeding on them, and contribute to their pollination. They use a diversity of other flowers, including blackthorn, broom and willow.
 The Tawny Mining bee nests in bare patches of ground on grassy areas and therefore is known to nest in gardens and parks. Nesting aggregations, in which many bees nest in the same area, can be quite large and the ground is the peppered with miniature volcanoes of loose soil around the nest entrance which they have dug out while they dig the nest. Despite them nesting near each other, the mining bees are solitary and each female digs her own nest and collects nectar and pollen for her own young. I will keep an eye for their nests, the next few weeks, and see if I can catch them as they come and go from their little volcanoes.


Kenneth said...

I came across several of these bees' nests for the first time today, on a friend's lawn. I bent down to have a closer look, as I'd never seen these tiny little molehill structures before, and I wondered what creature had made them - ant? wasp? As I looked, a beautiful red bee (which I now know to be a tawny miner) flew low across the lawn, but I didn't immediately connect it with these mounds of earth, as it looked too wide for the tiny holes. But thanks to Google and blogs such as this one, now I know!

I also observed today a certain species of (wasp-like?) insect which seemed to be interested in the garden hedge. Their flight was very precise and 'darty' and they could stay almost motionless in flight. They would fly a few inches above the hedge for several seconds, then suddenly move sharply away and make a big loop in the air, as if repelled by something unseen, and then come back and continue their precise reconnaisance of the top of the hedge. Any idea what these were?

Africa Gomez said...

Hi Kenneth, I am glad BugBlog was of help. I am keeping an eye to try and find some Tawny Mining bee nests to photograph.
Your description of the hedge insect reminds me of the behaviour of some hoverflies, which have this ability of staying motionless in the air. I am afraid that without more details I cannot think of anything more precise.

sharp green pencil said...

Hi from Val! Thank you so much for putting me right about the conmfrey!! What a dunce I am I KNOW its lungwort..I have grown enough of them both! .. I blame aged parent for pushing stress levels through the roof!
But this tawney mining bee post is wonderful. I did see one the other day but no camera to hand. They are so very bright! Sometimes I think my painitngs are too bright but I know the newly emerged bees are brighter. I am still to find a nest of the tawney mining bee though
Hope to get some more UK bees painted soon !

Africa Gomez said...

Hi Val! No worries, I hope things go well and your stress levels settle. Watching bees must help, as opposed to the long, rainy, cold days of winter inside! Thank you for your kind comments. You are right about the brightness, some times it does not look real. You know what, a few years ago I watched a nesting aggregation of these bees, but I wasn't intro macro or bees then! So, I will keep an eye on the place in the coming weeks in the hope they nest in the same areas year after year.

Kimjw2 said...

I have loads of these nests in my garden and have done for quite a few years. The numbers appear to have multiplied dramatically. I have seen a few flying around this past week which i am sure is due to the unseasonably warm weather as i presume its a little early for them.

Africa Gomez said...

Yes KimWj2, they seem to be earlier this year. They have been very actively digging all this week and I have seen a couple on the cherry blossom today.