Small, red and black

Tuesday 15 May 2018

I visited a large, SW-facing organic pasture near Hendre, NW Monmouthshire, ungrazed since the previous year. The recent sunny weather on this day produced a really interesting list of bees. This includes sixguttulata ed. different nomad bees, one of which is described in Falk and Lewington’s Field Guide as ‘a very scarce species’: Short-spined Nomad Bee (Nomada guttulata). Nomads are cuckoo-bees, or klepto-parasites, which lay their eggs in the nests of others, usually mining bees.

The small, red and black cuckoo-bee was flying with its host, Red-girdled Mining Bee (Andrena labiata, also small, red and black) in a labiata ed.corner of the meadow, over a patch of Germander Speedwell, the mining bee’s favoured flower. Only when I got the cuckoo bee home under the microscope and followed it through the Field Guide key did I realize what I had found. My identification was confirmed when I sent it to a BWARS expert.

While the mining bee is ‘rare and mostly coastal’ in Wales (though it is present in Drybridge Park, Monmouth), the cuckoo bee is much rarer than its host.

The other nomad bees were (using Steven Falk’s English names): Marsham’s, Fork-jawed, Gooden’s, Painted and Flavous. Three other cuckoo-bees (small, red and black again) were Blood-bees (Sphecodes): Box-headed, Geoffroy’s and Red-tailed.

labialis ed.Besides these I found nine other non-parasitic bees, including several males of Large Meadow Mining Bee (Andrena labialis), which I first found at this site. It is the only bee in this story not small, red and black.

Its cuckoo is the Red-tailed Blood Bee (Sphecodes rubicundus) below.rubicundus ed.

The number and variety of cuckoo-bees flying about in the Spring makes one wonder how their hosts manage to replace themselves at all.

 

About Roger Ruston

In one of my ealiest memories I am knee-high, collecting bees from lavender in a garden on the South Downs. When I grew up I got a master's in zoology at Bristol and studied insects under Prof. Howard Hinton FRS (for those who know, that gives away my age). After several retirements from several lives I have created a wildlife garden in Monmouth, Wales, giving a space to insects, especially bees. In four years I have found 49 species of bee there and nearly twice that number in the surrounding countryside. I am a member of BWARS (Bees, Wasps & Ants Recording Society). My ambition is to assist local conservation projects by identifying and mapping the local bees. I think it is best to know what species we share our spaces with before they are threatened by the many human activities that can destroy bees. Ignorance is the greatest enemy.
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