Sunday, 26 September 2010

Andrena subopaca

I'm finding the subject of solitary bees quite tricky - there is over 200 species in UK and trying to find them has been far more complicated than looking for the distinct bumblebees or familiar honey bees.

Looking for and catching solitary bees in summer with Brian (the ecologist) revealed that their behaviour and how they look is entirely different from what i was expecting.

Here is one of the bees we caught in summer: Andrena subopaca. It's a common small black bee and even though we caught it in July we were only able to name it after taking it to Liverpool Museum to be able to identify it properly.
As you can see from the image it is tiny and not at all what i thought bees look like.

Monday, 20 September 2010

Trip to the Museum

Last Thursday I went with Brian, the ecologist, to Liverpool Museum to meet with Carl Clee the Honorary Curator of Aculeate Hymenoptera (bees, wasps and ants). We took with us the solitary bees we'd collected at Yorkshire Sculpture Park in July. Brian had identified them, but needed confirmation form Carl.

What an amazing place - and it was really great to meet with someone so knowledgeable on the subject and who is keen to share that knowledge. Identifying solitary bees is a really complicated, tricky subject - one of the collected bees turned out to be a solitary wasp!

Carl also showed me some the collection of bees, wasps and ants in the cabinets - i loved it.

Our solitary bees identified on Thursday are:
Anthidium manicatum
Andrena helvola
Andrena denticulata
Andrena subopaca

Halictus rubicundus

The collected wasp was a Crossocerus tarsatus.

Brian has written out lots of info for me which i will put on the blog when i've also taken some close up shots of the bees.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Dead Queen

When Ivor and I were looking for the new queen in one of the hives the other day we also discovered three other queen cells. As we didn't want more then one queen Ivor destroyed two of the queen cells (i kept them for the collection - you can see the royal jelly in one of them), but as he was destroying the third cell a new live queen popped out. If we'd left her, the other queen would have searched for her and killed her, so Ivor removed her from the hive.

I didn't imagine that bee keeping would involve such things as killing queens, but I asked if i could keep the dead queen bee for my collection.

So, I took her to the laboratories the other day to look at under the microscopes.
What a beautiful creature she is.

Friday, 10 September 2010

Pollen Patterns

Ivor, the beekeeper, showed me the pollen in the cells of one of the frames in the hive the other day. All the different colours representing different sources in the local area. Colours of the landscape.

Pollen is a rich source of protein and fat and is fed to the growing larva in the colony. At this time of year the workers feed very heavily on pollen so they are ready to live over the winter - instead of living for the usual 36 days, the winter bee lives for as much as 6 months.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Executing the Drones

While watching the hives the other day i saw a worker bee and a drone (male bee) having a fight. The worker didn't stop attacking the drone until it was pushed over the edge of the base of the hive. With their only task of mating with new queens being over by now, I suppose getting rid of all the drones seems like good hive management. The rest of the hive will not look after the drones over the winter and so they are all thrown out or executed.

It seems a bit brutal being a drone: you either mate with a queen bee and in the process rip your genitals off and die; or you don't get to mate and get executed at the end of the summer by the female worker bees for being of no use anymore.*

I'm aware these images aren't quite in focus - as it goes when i have my bee suit and hood on I can't clearly see what i'm taking images of.

* I can think of a couple of people who i hope come back as drones.

Monday, 6 September 2010


With summer ending there isn't many flowering plants that the bees can feed on now. However, there is a large late-flowering fuchsia bush near the Camellia House at YSP that both honeybees and bumblebees have been able to feed on.

While i watched the bees flying around the fuchsia and then landing on the flowers I noticed that the bumblebees were piercing the top of the flower to be able to poke their long tongue in to feed - they can't reach up along the long flower head otherwise. I then noticed almost all of the flower heads had a little puncture wound where there had been previous visits.

As it goes, i've noticed they do that with comfrey flowers too.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Bee v Wasp

Watching the hives so closely i've noticed that wasps are often hanging about. I've seen quite a few go into the hives - they are trying to rob the honey. This is when guard bees of the colony will challenge the wasp, and the wasp will either fly off or they will fight with each other. The fight may end in the death of one or both of them.

Here I saw a wasp and a bee having a fight just outside the entrance to the hive - the wasp was the winner in this case - the bee hardly visible in the photos.

I've also watched wasps clear up any dead bees from the ground around the hives. I used to gather any dead bees in early summer for my collection, but noticed there weren't so many in the last month or two. I then observed wasps picking up dead bee parts and flying off with them. As much as the thought of wasps eating bees isn't a great one, at least they are keeping the area around the hives clean of carcasses.