Social Butterflies and Solitary Bees

Red tailed bumblebee © Jon Hawkins SurreyHillsPhotography

We may be feeling we have metamorphosed from social butterflies into solitary bees in the past few weeks, but out there, there are plenty of both butterflies and bees working hard to ensure we can enjoy bright beautiful springs now and in the years to come.

So far since being confined to home, we’ve had amazing weather and I’ve spent a fair bit of time watching wildlife in my garden.

The birds are certainly nesting, both in the nest boxes and in the hedge. I’ve watched blue tits and robins gathering nest material.

We have quite a bit of heather in our garden that we inherited on moving in here and it seems to be in flower for several months each year. At the moment it’s absolutely alive with the sound of bees. I’ve seen bumble bees, honey bees, solitary bees, peacock and small tortoiseshell butterflies all feeding from it.

Brimstone Butterfly M on Bowles Mauve

Brimstone Butterfly (M) on Bowles Mauve ©  Brian Fletcher

I’ve also noticed quite a lot of brimstone butterflies in the garden over the last few days, seemingly attracted to the yellow flowers in particular, such as the primroses. The brimstone is one of our earliest flying butterflies and very easy to identify. The adult butterfly hibernates over winter in amongst ivy or other suitable evergreens and begins to fly on the first warm days of spring. The males are a beautiful sulphur yellow but the females are paler in colour with a hint of green in the wings. At rest, the butterfly looks like a yellow leaf with pointed corners, offering great camouflage. Mating takes place in the spring and the adult female lays her eggs singly on buckthorn leaves. The caterpillars feed during the summer months before pupating and then beginning the whole cycle again.

Ashy mining bee

Ashy mining bee © Susan Simmonds

Something of particular interest to me at the moment are the solitary bees that excavate nests in my lawn. This week I’ve watched two different species of mining bee burrow into the lawn. We currently have the ashy mining bee (Andrena cineraria) and the yellow‐legged mining bee (Andrena flavipes) on the lawn.

The ashy mining bee, a grey and white coloured bee, seems to prefer the gaps in the slightly longer grass area in my garden whereas the yellow‐legged mining bees (a beautifully striped species) prefer the very short, sunny patch near our front door.

Mining bees such as these, excavate nests in the lawn and lay eggs in separate compartments which they stock with pollen, often moistened with nectar. Although they are solitary bees, they often nest in aggregations and on a warm, sunny day, you may see large groups of these bees, busy bringing pollen back to their patch of little volcano shaped nests on the lawn.

Yellow legged mining bee

Yellow legged mining bee © Susan Simmonds

The bee‐flies and the oil beetles that I also see at this time of year are here simply because of these bees. Both the oil beetle and the bee‐fly lay eggs near to the bees’ nests so that their larvae can access the nests and feed on the bee larvae. All part of this incredible ecosystem.

Other things to see and hear from the garden at the moment include the beautiful dawn chorus, foxes screeching at night and buzzards calling whilst soaring on thermals on a sunny afternoon.

Enjoy the spring!

Blashford Wild Days Out Bioblitz Bush cricket

Blashford Wild Days Out Bioblitz Bush cricket © T Standish

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