Thursday 5 July 2012

Fork-tailed Flower bees mating

Many people are familiar with the Hairy Footed Flower bee, Anthophora plumipes. These are amongst the earliest active in the year and are easy to recognise: females look like a small, black bumblebee and males are tawny. They are superfast flyers, with a characteristic high pitch buzz. If you like these bees, you will probably like their small summer time relative, the Fork-tailed Flower bee. This is a more slender bee, similar in size to a honeybee, chocolate brown and also with a long tongue. As usual in bees, males appear first, late May or early June. Males are very distinctive as they have a yellow face, and they make a similar high pitch noise to A. plumipes when they fly. After emergence, males find a patch of their favourite flowers and patrol it checking every flower spike, stopping to rest or feed occasionally. Females will appear a week or so later, and are all brown, with a reddish patch of short hairs and the end of the abdomen. They show a strong preference for the hedge Woundwort, Stachys sylvatica, which they use to collect pollen, although they also visit several other flowers including Lavender, Lambs Ears, Foxgloves, Comfrey, Herb Robert and Iris and also occasionally Buddleia. 
Male sunbathing
Male on a Hedge Woundwort spike, showing its long tongue
The female resting. Notice the reddish patch of hairs at the end of her abdomen
A couple of year ago I established a couple of patches of Hedge Woundwort in the garden. This native plant attracts long tongued bumblebees as Bombus pascuorum and hortorum. Anthophora furcata males appeared much later than usual, on the 23rd of June. Yesterday, in a warm sunny spell between showers, I watched the male patrolling the Hedge Woundwort patch. A little while later, the first female appeared. Within seconds the male jumped on her, and both fell to the bottom of the flower bed, disappearing from sight for at least half a minute. Then the female emerged, climbed over the plants, flew and tried to feed, but the male jumped on her yet again. The top shot is the only shot I got from this mating attempt. Solitary bees often mate just once, shortly after emergence, so the days when males have emerged waiting for females might be the best chance to observe these rare events.

3 comments: said...

Another epic post. Excellent. I enjoyed it.

sharp green pencil said...

V interesting post! I am increasingly fascinated by the relationship between some bees and specific flowers. I have been amazed that the woolcarders have arrived on cue, on my newly planted stachys. I do have some woundwort nearby and will have a look for these lovely little bees. I am struck also by the similarities between the behaviour of the anthidiums and the anthophora and their high pitched buzz! Wonderful. Thank you Africa.

Africa Gomez said...

Thank you Al and Sharp Green Pencil. I am glad to hear the wood carder bees have arrived in your garden. I am still waiting for them here. No trace of them even in the sunny wildlife garden. I forgot to mention the wool carder bees and also Osmia caerulescens feed on S. sylvatica. Bees have me learn so much about plants!