Solitary bees

Person Author: Lajos Szabo Calender May 24, 2012 Posted Tags: , , Comment 3 Comments

Solitary bees live and rear their offspring on their own. The females are all fertile and make their own small nests. There are about 250 solitary bee species in Britain, 24 bumble bees and 1 honey bee. When it comes to pollination these bees are just as important as the well know colony forming bees as solitary bees are very good pollinators, according to studies one solitary bee can do the job of 20 or more honey bee. Around 90% of the bees in the world are solitary, living their life on their own as single bees.

The first bees appear in the garden in early spring are the mining bees. They called mining bees because they make their nests in the ground, usually on soft, sandy soil or along paths where there is not too much vegetation. They are very similar in appearance to the honey bee but they don’t have pollen baskets on their legs.

There are two other groups in the UK which are the mason bees and the leafcutter bees.

Solitary bees are very useful pollinators as they do fly even in cold, wet weather unlike honey bees. The red mason bee is a well know pollinator of apple orchards, and other early flowering fruit trees and bushes.

As mentioned before these bees don’t form colonies but sometimes if there is a suitable area, they live very close to each other, this called aggregation.  Every female works alone making their own nest for the eggs in dead wood, hollow stems or burrowing in the ground. The females create a separate compartment for each egg, seal them off and then let the larvae fend for themselves. Many solitary bees nest in small cavities in woods.

To encourage these useful insects you can have a bunch of reed stems, or old canes. Keep them about 50 cm long, tie them together and hang them up somewhere sunny and safe at least 1 meter above ground. And you can simply drill different sizes if holes in your timber frame or fences. Or if you have a good sized log you can hang it up on the fence or on a post and drill holes in it so that the bees will find it attractive. Solitary bees are either stingless or very unlikely to sting.


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