For many years now, my school has maintained three small colonies of bees, kept in an apiary within the orchards where the hive’s residents can collect pollen and nectar from the surrounding Hawthorn, Apple and Lime trees. Recently, I have been lucky enough to have been offered a chance to conduct a survey with these small creatures, by the leader of the hive, and a bee enthusiast, Dr Kevin Rogers. He is interested in where the bees he is taking care of collect their pollen from, and what kind of pollen they prefer to use.
We plan to take a small sample of pollen from one of the hives in the apiary, once a week for the next few months. Once we have done this, we intend to identify the different pollens through a microscope and using a map of the surrounding area and its forage, to determine the preferred area that the bees like to gather from. We’ll be collecting the pollen using this plastic pollen trap, pictured below, after we have made some slight alterations to the brood box entrance that force all of the bees to head through the collector. As the bees pass through the small holes, some of the pollen they are carrying scrapes off the pollen baskets on their legs, and falls into the box below, ready to be collected. We are using the most healthy colony for our survey, since they have producing a large surplus of pollen and won’t be affected by losing a small amount.
These bees started out as Buckfast bees, a special hybrid species produced in Buckfast Abbey, which are prized for their low aggression, prolific egg laying and tendency to avoid swarming. However, these bees are now mongrels of Croydon, with no distinct pedigree species, combining the Buckfast genetics with those of bees from the area. One of the colony’s species is unknown, since they arrived as a swarm in the orchard surrounding the apiary, after their queen died in their previous hive. Once the alterations have been made, we can begin to collect the pollen, and I look forward to starting the project some time next week.
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.