A day of four seasons and still wildlife flourishes

Amazing day’s weather in Exeter yesterday – it seemed like all four seasons had been wrapped into one day. Heavy rain, hail, 18 degree sunshine and wind. During the sunny bits it seemed like spring had arrived – I saw my first bee flies of the year along with hoverflies, a peacock butterflies and the solitary bee – the Hairy-footed Flower Bee.

This is the Dark-edged Bee-fly (Bombylius major) – the most common of the bee flies in the UK
(it is a fly not a bee)

It has a very interesting life cycle which I have written about before – see here – it only flies when temperatures are above 17 degrees.This is the Drone Fly (Eristalis tenax) – a hover fly which is mimicking a honey bee. Hoverflies cannot sting but work on the assumption that you think they can!

Another shot – feeding on a Lesser Celandine – note the single pair of wings and the large compound eyes which distinguish flies from bees

This is the first Solitary Bee of the year to emerge – Hairy-footed Flower Bee (Anthophora plumipes) – this is a male – they emerge several weeks before the females – note the hairy feet!

Lovely yellow hairs on his face

If you have got a garden it is possible/probable that all of these species will be living in it – on a sunny day have a look  to see who you are sharing your garden with.


Garden comes alive

For the last few weeks spring has been unfolding at a steady pace, today my garden has burst into life. There are butterflies, solitary bees, bumblebees, hoverflies, beetles and bugs everywhere. I even surprised a grass snake on the lawn which promptly slid off into the undergrowth. I’m sure who was most startled ….. I have managed to photograph a few species.

Red-headed Cardinal Beetle
This is a red-headed Cardinal beetle (Pyrochroa serraticornis)

Dryophilocoris flavoquadrimaculatusThis is a capsid or mired bug called Dryophilocoris flavoquadrimaculatus

Green-veined White-2A green-veined white feeding on a Geranium

Criorhina floccosaThis splendid beast is a hoverfly which is mimicking a common carder bumblebee – it is called Criorhina floccosa

Criorhina floccosa - mapI have never seen this species before and it is rather a scarce species usually associated with woodland – the huge protected oaks in my garden might have helped lure it in.


Finally I found this and to be honest I don’t know what it is – any ideas anyone?

Bees, neonics and Devon County Council

Following a campaign by Friends of the Earth, Buglife and the Devon Wildlife Trust, Devon County Council councillors have voted to ban the use of neonicotinoid (neonics) insecticides on land they control.

Neonics are groups of systemic pesticides which are applied as a seed dressing meaning that the insecticide is taken up by the plant tissue and can then be ingested by non target species such as bees and other pollinators. Buglife have been campaigning for many years now to get neonics banned as there is now a substantial body of evidence shows that their use has caused declines in bee populations – see here and here.

Honey bee
Honey bee

Well done Devon County Council! Whilst this step on its own will not remove the threat to bees across Britain it does send a message which others elsewhere will hopefully now heed.

Neonics  don’t just impact on honey bees  they can also affect bumblebees and solitary bees (along with many other species of pollinating insects). Many of these species are now in serious decline across the country – not just because of pesticide use but also because of habitat change and the loss of wild flowers. However gardens are important places for many species of bee now and as individuals we can do a lot to encourage, support and protect bees. Flowers in our gardens attract lots of insects and we can help bees by providing nesting sites for them. I have recently acquired a bee hotel to do just that.

Bee hotel 1
In essence it is a structure which is protected from the worse of the weather which provides nesting places for a number of our solitary bees which nest in small cavities

Bee hotel 2The holes (either short sections of bamboo or holes drilled into pieces of untreated wood) are of different sizes to suit different species. You can make a bee hotel yourself (see here) or buy one.

I will report back over the summer to let you know whether my bee hotel is being used!




The Orange-legged Furrow Bee

As the spring unfolds more and more species of wildlife are beginning to emerge. It has been a tough start to spring though with cold temperatures and lots of rain. I am focusing on bees this year thanks to the publication of Steven Falk’s and Richard Lexington’s new book – the Field Guide to the Bees of Great Britain and Ireland – see here for my mini review of the book.

Yesterday I identified a new species in my garden – the Orange-legged Furrow Bee (Halictus rubicundus).

Orange-legged Furrow Bee 3
When I took this photo I was focusing on the bee on the flower but when I looked at the image (which I have now cropped) I noticed the second ‘striped’ bee on the right.

Orange-legged Furrow Bee 2
Note the orange furry legs – especially on its tibia and the orange fur on its thorax

Orange-legged Furrow Bee 1
In this picture you can also see the four yellowy/orange bands on its abdomen.

Both the bees in these photos are females – the female emerge as early as March and can be on the wing until October. The males don’t appear until mid June. Unlike many species of bee the Orange-legged Furrow Bee is very cosmopolitan – i.e. it can be found in a variety of habitats from coastal sites right up to moorland areas as well as garden. It does however require habitats that are rich in flowers. My garden at the  moment is covered in parts in lesser celandine. They make their nest by burrowing into light soil.

Orange-legged Furrow Bee
Here is the distribution map for the Orange-legged Furrow Bee in the UK (courtesy of the National Biodiversity Network). Inevitably many of the ‘gaps’ in its distribution arise because it has been unrecorded – i.e. not many people can identify the species!

The Bee-fly – it must be 17 degrees

Rather like the arrival of the swallow, the appearance of the Bee-fly is one of the heralds of spring for me. I actually saw my first Bee-fly on the 17th March but didn’t manage to photograph it. Yesterday I did get some pictures. Bee-flies only fly when the temperature is above 17 degrees. My garden is a sun trap and I could feel the sun on my neck – always a good sign.

Bombylius major 1
Bee-flies look like bumblebees but are in fact a type of fly. This is our commonest species – the Dark-edged Bee-fly (Bombylius major)

Bombylius major 5
They have a long tongue to reach nectar on flowers – they are often seen on primroses but this one is feeding on lesser celandine

Bombylius major 2
The dark front edges to the wings are characteristic of this species. In Britain there are four species of bee-fly – the others being much less common

Bombylius major 3
In this picture you can see the lesser celandine pollen on the proboscis and the feet of the Bee-fly – pollination in action! This individual is a female – the eyes are separated on the head – in the male both eyes touch each other. Bee-flies lay their eggs in the nests of bees such as mining bees and their larvae then feed on the bees’ larvae.

Bombylius major
Here is the distribution of the Dark-edged Bee-fly in Britain (courtesy of the National Biodiversity Network) – not that common in Devon.

The Hairy – footed Flower Bee – the female emerges

On the 11th March I did a blog on the Hairy-footed Flower Bee (Anthophora plumipes) – see here. This is one of the first bees to emerge at the beginning of the year. The individuals that emerge first are always the males. Around 2-3 weeks later the females appear. Yesterday I found a female in my garden.

Hairy - footed Floer Bee - female 1
When I first saw it I thought it was a bumblebee – on closer inspection I saw it had the red hairs on the hind legs which are characteristic of the female.

Hairy - footed Floer Bee - female 2Approaching a primrose – red hairs on the leg still visible.

Hairy-footed flower bee 3Here is the male for comparison – yellow tufts on the face.

Hairy-footed flower bee 1The hairy feet on the male are quite visible in this picture. The males and the females are quite different in appearance.

Good to see spring unfolding according to plan.


The hairy-footed Flower Bee on the wing now

You may think there are only a few species of bee in Britain – honey bees and a few bumblebee? Well actually you would be wrong there are in fact 275 species of bee in the country. Yesterday I found, managed to identify and photograph the Hairy-footed Flower Bee (Anthophora plumipes). It is one of the first species to emerge into the spring – the males can emerge as early as late February.

Hairy-footed flower bee 1
This is a male with its ginger hairs (the females are black) – you can also clearly see his hairy feet along with the long hairs along the segments of his mid tarsi. He is feeding on a Lesser Celandine flower.

Hairy-footed flower bee 2In this photo you can see the buff and ginger markings on the abdomen and the yellow hairs on its face which confirm its identity. You can also see its tongue feeding on the flower.

Hairy-footed flower bee 3Another view showing the yellow face

They make their nests in walls, chimneys and quarry faces. The species is reasonable common in southern England but appears to be restricted to the south coastal area of Devon.

Anthophora plumipes map
Distribution map of Anthophora plumipes courtesy of the National Biodiversity Network

I found this male in my garden in Exeter. This is the first time I have been able to use my new and excellent Field Guide to the Bees of Britain and Ireland (which I wrote about last November – see here). This book is of course the reason I was able to identify the species and tell you about its ecology!

Fancy a new hobby this year?