Solitary Bees

Solitary bee nests.

While thrashing a gravel pit pond on my work experience with Matt, we found the nests of some solitary bees in the ground around the pond’s bank. Solitary bees do not live in colonies and hives like other bees, such as honeybees and bumblebees, instead living along and raising their young in a single nest. There are over 225 different species of solitary bee in the UK alone, making it almost impossible to identify these ones, especially without having seen the bees themselves. If I were to guess what kind of bees lived here, I would say, it was a Tawny Mining Bee or a Red Mason Bee, since they are both very common, and often borrow their nests in the ground. Solitary bees often pad their nests with leaves and moss on the inside to insulate their young, and create the chambers of their nests. People can often mistake these nests for a colony, because many bees often live in the same area, since it is difficult to find an acceptable habitat, and this gives the impression that they are all living together in a single large hive.

There are two main types of solitary bees, Miners and Leaf-Cutters. The miners, like the ones we found on the bank of the pond, will dig their nests in sandy or loose soil, stock up their nests with pollen and nectar to sustain the larvae, lay their young, and then seal the nests, leaving the babies to fend for themselves until they become adult bees, and dig out of the nests. Miner bees resemble honeybees closely, but you can tell the difference by looking for the pollen baskets on the back of the bee. The solitary miner bees lack these pollen baskets. Leaf-Cutter bees, will normally build their nests in dead plant matter such as stems or shallow roots, and cut out circular pieces of leaf and petal from nearby plants in order to construct their nests. Leaf-Cutter bees in particular are excellent pollinators, and are just as important to the pollination process and colonial bees.

Unfortunately, it was too windy for the bees on the day we discovered the nests, and they would not leave to let us have a better look at them, although we know they are definitely miner bees. After thrashing the pond, we left the bees as they were.

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