I think its very hard to be a beekeeper and not take an active interest in all the bees, and other insects, that you come across in your garden or when out and about. I don’t keep my honey bees at home due to living in a build-up urban area with smaller gardens so I don’t often get the chance to just sit and watch my bees outside of my apiary visits.
I do however grow as many bee friendly plants as I can and try and encourage both wild bees and honey bees into the garden as well as producing a source of pollen and nectar to help conserve these solitary bees. Over the last couple of weeks I have been really enjoying watching the bumblebees tumbling all over the flowers on my raspberry plants – there are several distinct species and there is a great tool online from the Natural History Museum website to help you identify them – it helps if you take a photo for reference, here are a few of mine below (clicking on the images opens a higher resolution image in a new window):
Whilst I was studying these bees I noticed some appeared to be falling to the ground and landing on the grass, on closer inspection it also appeared that the bees were fighting amongst themselves – all very strange and certainly not something that I had witnessed before so I contacted a local entomologist, Dr Ian Beavis, who is a great source of knowledge (as well as an enthusiastic leader of many bug safaris in our local wild spaces) to see if he could shed some light on this unusual behaviour.
He replied to say not all is as it first appears, the bees are looking for a mate and will barge into and grab a partner whilst in flight, then reject them when they realise that they are the wrong species or sex which leave the slightly disorientated bees falling to the ground. They don’t seem to get hurt and soon recover enough to carry on their foraging amongst the flowers, until the next suitor arrives on the scene that is….
A recent NERC study ‘Lonely bees make better guests’ has suggested that solitary bees are twice as likely to pollinate the flowers they visit as their more sociable counterparts so we must consider these bees equally as important as the honeybees we are used to tending to and look to try and prevent their decline with as much energy, if not more so, as at least the beekeeper can split a colony or breed additional queens to make up for losses.
Of course the bees are not the only visitors to my raspberry patch – right now there seems to be a wealth of insects flying around and feeding on the rich nectar including this Harlequin ladybird, image below. If you spot any of the different ladybird species in your gardens it would be greatly appreciated if you could help out with the UK Ladybird Survey, again there are all sorts of tools and downloadable PDF’s to help you identify the ones that you find and this is also a great activity to carry out with kids, teaching them the importance of nature.
A new ladybird has arrived in Britain . But not just any ladybird: this is the harlequin ladybird, Harmonia axyridis, the most invasive ladybird on Earth.
The harlequin ladybird was introduced to North America in 1988, where it is now the most widespread ladybird species on the continent. It has already invaded much of of north-western Europe, and arrived in Britain in summer 2004.
There are 46 species of ladybird (Coccinellidae) resident in Britain and the recent arrival of the harlequin ladybird has the potential to jeopardise many of these. The Harlequin Ladybird Survey will monitor its spread across Britain and assess its impact on native ladybirds.
My lavender is just coming into flower and this always seems to attract more honey bees than I see on the raspberries so I am looking forward to watching these assuming that the weather improves enough for them to get out and forage this year!
I hope you have enjoyed reading the blog, feel free to contact me with comments, suggestions or general feedback, click on the right column to subscribe and receive updates when I next have the time between chasing the bees to write again.
I can also be found at @danieljmarsh on twitter or British Beekeepers page on Facebook.
N.B. clicking on the images opens a higher resolution image in a new window.