Ep.2 Solitary Bees
Do bees need our help? Surely the solitary bee is happiest on its own? In this second instalment of our Wildlife Community Podcast, we delve into the secretive world of these fascinating pollinators who are a gardener’s best friend.
Solitary bee season is well on its way, what better time to podcast about the bees than now! As mentioned in this episode, here is the wonderful footage captured by Paul of his favourite solitary bee, Osmia Bicolor, arranging sticks kerplunk style!
Osmia bicolor I filmed arranging sticks a couple of years ago at Stroud Cemetery that I just looked at again and selected this little snippet. Underneath the 'kerplunk' style thatch is an empty snail shell containing an egg and porridge of pollen and nectar 🐝 #bees pic.twitter.com/1mF6eiYTbp— nommo (@nommo) February 23, 2020
Why do we need solitary bees?
In this episode we speak to an actual professor of pollinators, Jeff Ollerton; whose book Pollinators and Pollination discusses the relationship between our rapidly changing world, and the impact this is having on how bees interact with flowers. And Jean Vernon, an RHS and Daily Telegraph writer whose book, The Secret Lives of Garden Bees is available to buy on our website.
"When people visualise bees they maybe think about a honey bee, or a bumblebee. And what they don't realise is that there are 275-ish species of bees in the UK. We have one honey bee which is the only species of bee which makes honey. But they are not the best pollinators. Then we have 25-ish bumblebees. And about 250 species of solitary bee." Says Jean.
"Leaf Cutter bees for example are a blessing. They are incredibly good pollinators because they are very messy bees and collect their pollen on what they call a feathery scopa under their bodies. And they make such a mess that they drop pollen everywhere, so that when they move from flower to flower, they take the pollen and it very quickly helps pollinate the plant.
"So if a gardener wanted to improve pollination, say they have a mini orchard, they would be better encouraging and supporting the solitary bees in their garden."
Plants for attracting solitary bees to your garden
Between our guest experts we asked them to recommend the most successful flowering plants to choose for our gardens which will attract to solitary bees. Here are their choices:
- Dandelions - incredibly important for pollinators because they flower early in the season.
- Lambs' Ears - a favourite of the Wool Carder Bee which shaves the fluff off the leaves to line their nests.
- Pulmonaria (Lungwort) - early spring plant which is a big favourite of hairy footed flower bee.
- Perennial Sweet Peas - a big hit with leaf cutter bees.
- Sea Holly (Eryngium) - a fantastic bee plant that's easy to grow from seed and is a perennial.
- Marjoram - amazingly rich in nectar and a brilliant nectar plant.
- Early flowering fruit trees - greengauge, apples, cherries and victoria plums are great.
- Ivy - an amazingly important plant providing a nectar source later in the season, particularly for the ivy bee.
- Yarrow - produces large flower heads, very shllow and easily accessible nectar for a wide range of bees and hover flies later in the season.
If you have a question you would like asking on a future podcast, please drop us a note via our social channels. You can follow us on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. Just use the hashtag #thewildlifecommunitypodcast and we will find your question.
Why buy a solitary bee house?
In this episode our Job of the Month focused on providing habitats for solitary bees in our gardens. One of the ways you can do this, is to have a couple of bee hotels. These offer a home for female cavity nesting bees in which to lay their eggs in time for the following spring. It’s a great thing to do because the typical ‘natural’ habitats in which solitary bees would lay eggs are slowly disappearing. New houses, and fewer old dead trees mean that they are running out of options.
As Paul mentions in the podcast, solitary bees are incredibly fascinating in the way that they lay their eggs. Their ability to ‘choose’ whether they are laying a female or male egg is incredible. With the female ‘mum’ bees choosing to lay their ‘baby girls’ eggs towards the back of a nesting tube, and their ‘baby boy’ eggs to front. Meaning that if the cavity is predated upon by a woodpecker for example, the female bees are safer towards the back and less likely to be eaten.
You can purchase any of our solitary bee hotels by clicking here.