18 April 2016


A cloudy day has given me a chance to catch up on myself a little after a lot of bee finding activity in last week's good weather. Although easter was early this year it does strike me as a lateish spring, although that may be anticipation on my part. Things are under way in east Gower as far as Oxwich but a visit to Overton yesterday showed me the west is still blasted from the winter, at least on the coastal strip. It was late enough to find my first Lesser whitethroat of the year diddling away at the top of Longhole Valley:
The main purpose of this post is to illustrate some of the bees which can be seen and identified in the field or from good photos. The first of these would be found in large numbers on the soft cliffs on the coast but also inland where suitable. Andrena flavipes (Yellow Legged Mining Bee) has brownish bands on the abdominal segments and a bright orange hind tibia in the females. Males swarm at the soft cliff and its slumped bottom part and emerge first (like many bee species). The females, not yet as common, collect pollen which can sometimes obscure the leg colour, as in this photo. Like many solitary bee species they also have a late summer generation.

Another Andrena common in this habitat and on bare mud elsewhere is Andrena thoracica (Cliff Mining Bee) and, as you can see has a bare shiny black abdomen and bright orange thorax. It is also much larger than the Yellow Legged. Beware later in the season as there is a similar bee which has some white/pale hairs on the legs and abdomen. You are pretty clear at this time of year.

A third really easy bee is Andrena fulva (Tawny Mining Bee) which will be found everywhere with grassland/bare areas in which they nest, look for the excavation volcanoes on your lawn. Beware Lasioglossum calceatum will also do this a little later in the year.. It is also very common in gardens and will visit your fruit bushes. The males are not so easy to identify but the female is orange all over and easy to ID as long as you don't mix it up with some of the, much larger, bumble bees with a brown thorax.
This fourth bee, Andrena cineraria (Ashy Mining Bee), does not strike me as so common here but the reason I am looking is that I do not know for sure. I have found it a few times last week at Pennard, Caswell and last year at Rotherslade. 
One thing you might confuse with this is a worn or dark Melecta albifrons (Common Mourning Bee) which is a cleptoparasite of Anthophora bees and lays the egg in their nest whereupon the young hatch and eat all their food. If in doubt, as appearances of bees can vary quite a bit especially when old and worn, look at the wing veins shown in the photo below which can be seen in a good photo from the right angle.
Wing comparison:
If you are being guided by Steven Falk's excellent new bee book beware that the genera key says the vein indicated by the red line above goes to such and such a position on the second submarginal cell when it should be the third. Not rocket science, easy really!
This book will also help you identify from a good photo a lot of the cleptoparasitic Nomada bees which look like wasps. Here are two flying at the moment:
Nomada fabriciana (Fabricius' Nomad Bee) female, look at the red in the middle of the antennae, parasitises several Andrena but commonly bicolor and flavipes abundant on the coast here:
Nomada goodeniana (Gooden's Nomad Bee) male, again Andrena hosts including thoracica:
Note the shape, colour and position of the yellow spots on the thorax and abdomen. Not all Nomada are this easy though.
A sure sign of strong bee colonies are Bee Flies of the genus Bombylius and this discolor (Spotted Bee Fly) was a long way east, just west of Caswell.
These and other species such as Oil Beetles and Satellite Flies also take advantage of the bee's supplies to rear their own young at the Bee's expense. There is a lot of stealing within the bee/wasp group anyway, they are really interesting to study.
Much more information is available on the BWARS website which also has a link, under resources, to Steven Falk's Flickr pages with a huge mass of pictures and information:


Deborah S said...

Thanks Ian, those are really helpful tips for bee finding & identifying. Where would you recommend for soft cliffs (& oil beetles)? Horton & ???. Deborah

Dr ICB said...

Deborah, Pennard cliffs are good for oil beetles, the best site there is probably above Bantam bay (small cove before you get to Pwll du). Once found six or seven within 10 metres, right on the path.

ian tew said...

Deborah, absolutely anywhere along the hard cliffs, i.e. not sand dunes, from Mumbles to Rhosili and beyond would be great. I'm busy photographing the back of their heads/necks in the hope that I can sort them out later and send in records. If you search up John Walters and Meloe or oil beetles you will find a really useful sheet on how to identify the different species.

Deborah S said...

Great, thanks all. I've got the Buglife oil beetle guide, I'll look up John's. Happy hunting!