It’s been a while since I've written a blog post. I thought I’d start by telling you about some Early Mining Bees I’ve been lucky enough to see 2 years in a row. They've been making their home in the mud on a strip of dirt in busy, cemented Hammersmith in London. Early Mining Bees are solitary bees – this means that they don’t live in a colony (unlike bumble and honey bees) but there have been reports of females tolerating other females and digging a hole right next door. They’re usually seen from March to June but can be seen at last at September depending on the weather. They dig a hole which goes down into the ground which has a few chambers where they have larvae, eggs and pollen stores.
Last year I saw them quite late on – perhaps June or July. I watched them for a long time to just observe and learn more about these little bees. I noticed that they were very docile – often landing in my hair or on my clothes – even my hand! They were very calm and didn’t seem threatened at all. There were maybe 100 small holes in the ground along this strip of mud where they make their home. I noticed that they find it hard to find their hole again after they’ve been out foraging. They seem to hover and land, perhaps go in a hole or two or just walk around trying to find their hole. Then they may fly around again and hover again trying to locate their hole. It seems they know they general location but they seem to often go into other holes belonging to their sisters – often met with another bee pushing them out and poking their head out their hole! It’s actually quite cute. It’s also very different behaviour from honey bees. Honey bees don’t have difficulty locating their hive at all. Even if a beekeeper was to place 5 hives in a row – the bees would never go in a hive that wasn’t their own. This is usually because they omit pheromones and perhaps this isn’t something that solitary bees do in the same way because they don’t live in a colony? I haven’t found much information on this but another bee lover commented that he's seen this amonst lots of ground dwelling bees.
This year I’ve been keeping me eye on them since early Spring in the hope Is will be able to see them but I only realised when London hit 29 degrees – the hottest April since 1947 that they wait until the weather is between 20-30 degrees usually. I noticed a few days ago when I was watching them that they are more territorial than when I last sore them towards the end of last year (one bee could go in another hole without any little scraps) but when a few girls got close to each other today, they look a little roll around to fight each other. I can only assume this is because they are very territorial since they have their precious eggs and larvae stored away in their holes and they must protect them from intruders. I was recently asked if they hibernate as adult bees – and after a lot of reading it appears so. The adult bees hibernate over the winter in the burrows and emerge in Spring. About 2 weeks before they emerged them this year, I noticed there was a council worker turning over the mud with a tool and my heart instantly dropped – I thought they would start planting new plants on this little strip of dirt (which is mainly covered by trees and bushes) but on closer inspection it looks like they were turning over certain areas of the mud - almost as if they knew these precious little creatures make their home here. I wonder if they were turning over the mud to make it easier for the bees to dig their way out.
I find these bees endearing and througoughly enjoy watching them and I hope to learn more about them through this short time in which they are active. Solitary bees are so important because they do so much pollinating. In Britain we have around 270 species of bee and just under 250 of those are solitary bees. We need them as much as they need us.