Woodland, hedgerows and nearby grassland which are species-rich in flora are excellent for bees of all kinds and only a fraction of what is a truly massive tally is discussed here. Other pollen-collecting bees are found on the Bluebells page and in particular in the Gardens section of the website, since so many of them offer excellent opportunities for study when they visit borders for nectar or pollen and when they nest. Megachile spp are a case in point. The Nomada genus of cuckoo bees is on a separate page.
Bumblebees are easily found and pretty numerous, including Bombus pascuorum (Common Carder Bee, 18mm), a long-tongued species with nests containing around 100 workers. Mating, as with a number of hymenoptera, can involve two males trying their luck with a female simultaneously. The pictured trio on this page took off after a short while, powered solely by the female, and landed still together 20 metres from the starting point - confirmation of the strength of the queen.
Mining bees do not pollinate fruit trees to the same extent as bumblebees but the pictured Andrena haemorrhoa (11mm) is at work on a 'wild' apple's blossom. Andrena haemorrhoa is reasonably common and can be seen from April to June.
Like all the members of the sizeable Andrena genus, also known as sand bees, she is gathering pollen on which the hatched larvae can feed. While a sandy habitat is usually required for mining the burrow, Andrena bees use a wide variety of flora to obtain pollen. This means they can turn up almost anywhere that has a rich flora, including on woodland margins.
A number of Andrena species are shown in the Sandpits pages of the Heathland section of my website but there are plenty to go around. One of the earlier ones to appear, usually in April, is Andrena labiata (10mm), which is nationally scarce. They are found in grassland up to July and collect pollen from Speedwells (Veronica spp), though they also consistently visit Star of Bethlehem flowers in gardens.The male is one of only a handful of Andrena bees with a white clypeus.
Another of the 16 Andrena species that are double-brooded is much commoner. The pictured Andrena dorsata (9mm) is freshly emerged, with the usual brightness of coat at that stage. They are found in various habitats, in scrubby areas or woodland edge. The same applies to Andrena synadelpha (10mm), very much a species of southern England and seen from March to June.
In any prize for the most striking Andrena species, Andrena fulva, shown in the Garden section of the website, and Andrena cineraria must be the top two contenders. The former is a dashing mixture of red, orange and black but Andrena cineraria (12mm) matches that with its smoky wings, jet black hue and stunning grey/white edging.
Andrena cineraria overwinter as adults in the burrow and are seen on the wing mostly in April and May. They are not too particular about habitat and have no special plant used for collecting pollen but despite this they are not exactly common, for all that they are widespread. In Surrey, for instance, there are few records of them in the southern half of the county.
The pictured female was nesting on the Greensand Ridge. Wherever Andrena cineraria is found, especially in the noted aggregation at Ham Common in south-west London, the cleptoparasite Nomada lathburiana can be looked for. Shown on the Cuckoo Bees page, it is a Red Data Book species. Andrena labialis (13mm) is one of the largest Andrena bees and flies from May to July. The male is distinctive, with a yellow face, and where conditions are favourable the species can nest in large aggregations. Pollen is collected mostly from the Pea family (Fabaceae).
Andrena labialis has a scarce cleptoparasite, Sphecodes rubicundus. This species is exceptional among the Sphecodes group in using an Andrena species as host; the majority use Lasioglossum or Halictus bees.
Even more closely linked with Fabaceae is one of the most impressive bees in Britain, Eucera longicornis (12mm), whose Latin and English (Long-horned Bee) names give the game away regarding the prodigious antennae of the male. The reasons for this length are unknown. The female has shorter antennae and also lacks the yellow face.
Eucera longicornis is scarce and was made a Biodiversity Action Plan priority species in 2007. They are seen from May to July in various locations including coastal grassland (the Isle of Wight is good) and heathland as well as open woodland rides. They use only the Pea family for pollen collecting. An exceptionally rare bee, Nomada sexfasciata, cleptoparasites Eucera longicornis, being found only in one site in Devon.
Members of the Megachilinae brigade which do not cut leaves are Osmia rufa and Anthidium manicatum, which are shown on the Garden Bees and Insect Boxes pages, and Chelostoma florisomne (12mm). The last-named is associated with woodland margins and meadows containing Buttercups (Ranunculae spp), on which it is uniquely dependent for pollen (oligolectic). Perhaps surprisingly, few bees use these widespread and bountiful plants.
Chelostoma florisomne nests in old beetle burrows in dead wood. The pictured female was collecting sand, moistened with saliva, to make plugs for separating cells within the nest. Dry sand would seem a tough medium to use for this, and there were no buttercups to speak of in the vicinity, so the choice of the site for soil collection - this happened in 2006 and 2007 - seems a little odd.
Halictus rubicundus (11mm), one of only two commonly-found Halictus species, and Lasioglossum calceatum (10mm), one of a much larger group, do not require a particular habitat in which to construct their nests. However, Halictus rubicundus seems to prefer vertical or sloping bare ground facing south and is exceptional among mining bees in being eusocial. This means they are not perfectly solitary, since after hibernating, a mated queen can rear a few sterile workers in her mined burrow before she produces a brood of fertile males and females in late summer.
The 12-strong Hylaeus genus, a group of solitary bees which are small and tend to nest in plant stems or dead wood, are very attractive and many are commonly seen. They are around from May to September and have no hairs for carrying pollen, which is carried with the nectar in the crop, or in one species, Hylaeus cornutus, on the clypeus. The cells are made in a line and are waterproofed by a cellophane-like material. The egg is laid on a semi-liquid food store of pollen and nectar. The females forage from a range of plants for their pollen sources.
Males, as in the Hylaeus signatus shown in the Downland pages, can have decidedly bright faces but the females tend to be less striking. Some are rare, including Hylaeus gibbus, on the Heathland pages and some are decidedly small. Hylaeus pictipes (6mm) is one of the tiniest and designated as nationally scarce, yet it was found at two new locations in Surrey in 2008 including at Reigate Heath. The male pictured above (the link alongside is to a female) turned up in my Reigate garden in 2009. On the same scale but altogether commoner is Hylaeus brevicornis, while Hylaeus communis (7mm) lives up to its name by being the easiest found of the whole genus. This species is dealt with more fully on the Insect Boxes page in the Gardens section of this website.
Last, but not least, a handsome and nationally scarce bumblebee mimic - the Broad-bordered Bee Hawkmoth (Hemaris fuciformis, wingspan 45mm). Seen in late spring, it feeds when flying, taking nectar mainly from honeysuckle (the foodplant of the caterpillars) but also from such plants as bugle, ragged robin and rhododendron. East Anglia is a stronghold.
Images © Jeremy Early. All rights reserved.
In 2013 I published My Side of the Fence - the Natural History of a Surrey Garden. Details may be found, and orders placed, via this hyperlink My Side of the Fence. In November 2015 Surrey Wildlife Trust published the atlas Soldierflies, their allies and Conopidae of Surrey, jointly written by David Baldock and me. Details are on this web page: Atlas.