Category Archives: Solitary Bees

Early spring bees

If you’re new to bee spotting, now is the month when you can really begin. If you’ve been waiting all winter to get back to bee spotting, now’s the month to resume on dry, sunny days.

In March you could see three species of bumblebee:

  • The Early bumblebee (Bombus pratorum) queen is smaller (14mm) and prettier with her fluffy yellow collar and orangey bottom.
  • The Common carder bee (Bombus pascuorum) The queen bumblebees are collecting (cardering) bits of moss to line their nest which they make above ground in undisturbed areas at the bottom of gardens. They also need nectar to fuel their flight after a long period of hibernation. Their long tongue, means you are likely to see them foraging on dead-nettles at this time of year.

(You will also likely see big Buff-tailed bumblebees as they are our most common bee with their golden stripes and whitish tails)

Six solitary bee species:

  • Hairy-footed flower bees (Anthophora plumipes) are often mistaken for bumblebees because of their round, fluffy appearance, but they live alone (not in colonies). The brown, male Hairy-footed flower bees emerged a few weeks ago in some warmer parts of the country and bigger blacker females have also recently been spotted. But most of us will have to wait a bit longer to see both of them. They visit Pulmonaria (lungwort) and other flowers with bell-shaped flowers. The males suck up the nectar with their long, straw-like tongues (proboscis) to build up their energy for mating when the females appear. A male will often jealously guard a patch of flowers where he hopes to get lucky, and chase off other potential suitors. More than one male can often be seen in pursuit of a female.
  • Buffish mining bee (Adrena nigroaenea) is one of our most common garden mining bees widespread across England. Around the size of a honeybee but a bit stockier, this 10-11mm-long bee has a dense fluffy brown pile on the top of its thorax. It can be tricky to identify from other brown bees. It nests in footpaths, flowerbeds and lawns. Although solitary, these bees nest next door to each other in large groups. Like all solitary bees, the male appear a couple of weeks before the females.
  • Male Red mason bees (Osmia bicornis) can emerge towards the end of the month to feed on blossoming fruit trees and shrubs. (But if it’s unseasonably warm and the trees flower early females too will appear.) If you have a bee hotel you may see these cavity nesting bees checking out of the mud-plugged tubes. They eat their way out. And the male eggs are laid at the front of the tubes making it easier for them to emerge easier than the females. They are a little smaller (6 – 8mm) than a honey bee (9-10mm), more gingery and have a rounder bottom.
  • Male Orange-tailed mining bees (Andrena haemorrhoa) are a little smaller (8-11mm) and less robust than Buffish mining bees. The smaller males have buff on their face and a brown pile on the thorax and at tip of their tail. Their name derives from the larger females (which may not be out until April) which have an orange-tipped tail. They took up residence one summer in our Bee Observation Box, which I will put up next month.
  • Gwynne’s mining bee (Andrena bicolor) is a bit harder to spot, being 7-11mm, but look down and you may see them burrowing through soil on south-facing banks. Although solitary, they nest next door to each other underground in aggregations, so hundreds could emerge at the same time. But don’t worry, solitary bees don’t sting! The female has a reddish-brown pile on the top of her thorax and hairy pollen brushes on her back legs. The males are much blacker and shinier. They seem to eat most spring flowers and as such are seen throughout England and Wales.
  • Common mini-miner (Andrena minutula). If you see a tiny mining bee (4-5mm) at this time of year, chances are it will be this mini-miner bee because as its name suggests it’s the most common of the 10 species of mini-miners in the UK. They have hair fringe along the thorax and marking on their head if you can get that close. They are most visible on dandelion type flowers and sallow (willows). They nest in loose soil in large groups.

Bee mimic of the month:

Many people confuse the Dark-edged bee-fly (Bombylius major) for a bee (which is why we’ve included it). Not surprising there is confusion, because it’s a great mimic – round and fluffy like a small bumblebee (14mm long). It’s very visible in the spring, hovering around green alkanet and wallflowers. The easiest way to tell it apart from a bee is its long, spindly legs, hovering action, and two wings (bees have four wings) which stick out at a 45c angle, and relatively big eyes.

The honey bee (Apis mellifera) workers (14mm) leave the hive when its 13c. Shaped like a wasp, they have black and amber stripes. Look up and you will see them high up on fruit trees, pussy willows and hazel and alder collecting nectar and pollen to take home to feed their queen and thousands of hungry larvae that will develop into workers and drones. (We’ve not included them in our Bees to See in March guide above as we wish to raise awareness about solitary bees and bumblebees).

How to help bees this month:

Gardening for bumblebees:

  1. Leave a patch of the garden wild for nesting sites and don’t disturb a nesting site if you find one in a compost bin, under a shed, or even in a watering can (it will only last until the end of the summer).
  2. Put up a box for blue tits. After the chicks have fledged, the box may be inhabited by Tree bumblebees (Bombus hypnorum). The colony will vacant at the end of summer, so the blue tits can use it again next spring.
  3. Plant primroses, Forget- me-nots, Rosemary and heathers to provide food this month for short-tongued bumblebees.
  4. Longer-tongued bumblebees like Common carder bees prefer dead-nettles and wallflowers.
  5. Leave ‘weeds’ like dandelions and alkanet to grow. They provide much-needed pollen and nectar in early spring. And you’ll see lots of different bees coming to feed on a clump of alkanet.
  6. Sow seeds inside now to create more flowers later in the summer. Sweet peas, sunflowers, cosmos and Anise hyssop are some of the easiest to grow in pots. Try growing on a heated mat until the seeds germinate. I’m also going to try Chives, Viper’s bugloss and cornflowers outside next month.
  7. Instead of seeds, you can buy bee-friendly plug plants that are quicker to establish. My favourites are stocked by Rosybee.
  8. Don’t mow the lawn to let clovers flower.
  9. Ditch the weed killers, like Round-up, and any pesticides and bug sprays you may be using on your roses, or any other plants.

Gardening for solitary bees:

  1. Plant lungwort, wallflowers, dead-nettles, early-flowering comfrey and flowering currants (Ribes) for long-tongued Hairy footed flower bees. Red mason bees and mining bees, with shorter tongues prefer flowering fruit trees, willows, spurges, alkanet and forget-me-nots.
  2. Leave old mortar untouched as Hairy-footed flower bees may be nesting here.
  3. Make cob bricks with holes in that Hairy-footed flower bees could nest in instead.
  4. When the weather is dry and warming up a bit, I install bee-hotels in a warm location at least a metre off the ground, where Red mason bees (Osmia bicornis) can check-in and lay their eggs. We’ve designed our own wooden bee hotels which we stuff with cardboard tubes.
  5. Leave a patch of bare earth for mining bees to burrow and nest, and where Red mason bees can collect soil to plug their nests.
  6. If you see bees coming up through your lawn, just leave them. They are a harmless mining bees emerging in spring to pollinate your garden flora.
  7. Don’t mow the lawn to let the mining bees emerge and to nest, and to let dandelions flower.
  8. Ditch the weed killers, like Round-up, and any pesticides and bug sprays you may be using on your roses, or any other plants. Leafcutter bees depend on the leaves of rose bushes to construct their nests.

How to ID and help bees this August

The late summer flying bees vary hugely in size, colour and shape, from the round, fluffy bumblebees to the medium-sized, striped plasterer bee, parasitic blood bee with a red abdomen, the mining bee with yellow legs and the pantaloon bee with massive pollen brushes on its hind legs .  And the tiny black Yellow-face bees and Small scissor bees are still around. You may also notice that some of the bumblebees just got a lot larger again, like the size they were in the spring. That’s because a new generations of queen bumblebees are flying. Many will have mated with males (yellow, fluffy faces) from nearby nests and are looking for somewhere safe to hunker down for the next few months until spring when they will emerge to create their own colony.

Tips for IDing August bumblebees:

  •  Early bumblebees (Bombus pratorum) – so called because the colony produces new queen bees as early as May when other bumblebees colonies are still busy producing workers. This month a second generation of queens (13mm) could be flying along with smaller (10mm) workers and males, which have a much yellower head. Don’t confuse these small males with the larger males of red-tailed bumblebees. The latter has a much bigger red bottom and is bigger in size too.
  • Common carder bees (Bombus pascurorum) have been frequent visitors to the garden all summer, but you may notice that many have lost their bright ginger tufts of hairs on their thorax. It has faded to a dull brown, bleached by the sun, or just a sign that these worker bees are coming to the end of their life cycle. The newer queens and males may still sport the brighter, gingery hairs. As their English name suggests, they are widespread, and they tease out (‘carder’) pieces of moss and grass for nesting material. Unlike many bumblebee species, they nest on the ground, rather than below it, often under hedges, or garden sheds, or in tall open grassland.

You may also see red-tailed bumblebees, tree bumblebees and garden bumblebee this month. All the castes could be out – the large queens, and smaller workers and the yellow-face males. And a new generation of cuckoo bumblebees may also be flying, such as the Field cuckoo bee (Bombus campestris), which lays its eggs in carder bees’ nests. Here’s a full guide to cuckoos. ID tip: They have darker wings than nest-making bumblebees and no pollen baskets because their host’s worker bees collect the pollen to feed the cuckoo bees’ females and males.

How to ID August solitary bees:

  • Pantaloon bee (Dasypoda hirtipes) is a medium sized fluffy bee easily identified by its oversized orange pollen brushes, or ‘pantaloons’ and its nesting behaviour. It excavates a burrow in sandy banks, coastal footpaths, and even on brownfield sites and leaves a large fan of sandy spoil to one side of the hole. Most likely to be seen in heathland and coastal sand dunes of south east England, Dorset, Norfolk and Wales. It’s one of my favourite holiday pastimes, trying to spot the spoil and then waiting to see the bee in action.
  • Yellow-legged mining bee (Andrena flavipes) – are bivoltine, which means they have two generations a year. The first appears in spring and flies from March to June, and a second one from June to September, so you are seeing the second generation now. They are common in southern England and could be mistaken for honeybees, but are a bit smaller and a bit hairier and have orange (rather than yellow!) pollen brushes on their back legs, not pollen bags. They nest in large aggregations in south-facing slopes and short turf including mown lawns.
  • Davies’ plasterer bee (Colletes daviesanus) is half the size of a honeybee with a furry thorax and a shiny abdomen with grey-white stripes. There are 500 known species of plasterers – also called Colletes bees –  worldwide, but only nine in Britain. This is the main one you’ll see in your garden on any daisy-like flower and nesting in weathered sandstone walls, soft mortar or in south-facing slopes of bare soil in large aggregations with other bees of the same species.  They are called plasterer bees because they plaster the cells of the nests with a cellophane-like resin substance they produce which is both waterproof and fungus-resistant.
  • Four-banded flower bee (Anthophora quadrimaculata) – these small zippy banded bees with big eyes (the males are green-eyed) are fading to grey now. Look out for them darting rapidly between flowers on catmints, lavenders, Black horehound and dead-nettles, emitting a high-pitched buzz. You have most chance of spotting this bee in Greater London and the Thames Gateway than anywhere else in the UK.
  • Common yellow-face bees (Hylaeus communis) are one of many small, (5mm) predominately black bees which frequents gardens from mid to late summer. This one has tiny yellow spots (female) or a triangle (male) on its face, and yellow on its legs. It nests in a variety of small cavities including hollow stems and manmade bee hotels and summer units if the dimensions are small enough. It too lines the cells of its nest with waterproof, anti-fungal resin applied with its tongue, which explains why yellow-face bees are classified in the same family as Colletes.  You won’t see pollen on their hind legs or under their tummy, because, unusually for a bee, they carry pollen back to the nest in a special stomach, called a crop and regurgitate it to make a semi-liquid mixed with nectar to feed their brood (larvae).
  • Small scissor bees (Chelostoma campanularum) were easy to spot in June and July despite their diminutive size, because the 4.5mm-long males shelter in the middle of bellflowers (campanula in Latin) during dull weather and/or at night. Now the bellflowers have gone, look in hardy geraniums instead. Another cavity nester, they use pre-existing holes in dead wood including fence posts and plug the holes with small particles like sand grains and pebbles, like Resin bees.  
  • Blood bees (Sphecodes) can often be found where furrow bees are nesting as they invade their nests and those of mining bees.   There are several hundred species of these parasitic bees globally and around 17 in the British Isles. They range in size from 4mm to 8mm, but can be identified from other black, hairless bees by their red abdomen which looks as if it is full of blood. Telling one blood bee species from another can be very challenging, despite possessing some of the best descriptive common names such as swollen-thighed, bare-saddled and dull-headed. If you see one on heathland or coastal dunes, chances are it could be the Sandpit blood bee (Sphecodes pellucidus) . They are actually cleptoparasites, which means the female enters a host’s nest, opens up a cell and destroys the egg, or larvae, and replaces it with her own egg before resealing it. Females are usually found around the nests of the host, while males often hang out on a variety of daisy-like flowers and umbellifers. Tip: Don’t kill these bees to save the furrow and mining bees. Nature works in mysterious ways and we must respect that.

You may also still see leafcutter bees and small, black furrow bees foraging in parks and gardens throughout the UK at this time of year.

How to help bees in August:

  1. Plant different flowers for different bees. Hollyhocks, sunflowers, globe thistles and cardoons are all magnets at this time of year for short-tongued bees, along with open-faced dahlias. For the long-tongued bumblebees, black horehound, salvias and buddleia are still flowering, and hemp agrimony is good if you have damp growing conditions. Geranium rozanne and Calamint are still going strong, and Common sneezeweed (Helenium autumnale) is starting to produce coppery blooms which are a top attraction for solitary bees according to Rosybee nursery’s fantastically helpful research . Marjoram (Origanum), Anise hyssop, thyme and Bergamot, are all later-flowering herbs that do well in pots in a sunny position.
  2. If you only have a window box, Mexican fleabane (Erigeron karvinskianus), creeping thyme (Thymus serpyllum), trailing nasturtium and bird’s-foot trefoil are still flowering. Add sedum for late flowers and annuals such as cosmos and snap dragons.
  3. If you let your lawn grow into a wildflower meadow this year, now is a good time to do what’s called the ‘haycut’. Cut to 4cm with a mower, or better still use a scythe or shears. Leave the cuttings for a few days to let seeds drop to the surface of the soil, then rake the cuttings up to reduce soil fertility and encourage more wildflowers next year.
  4. Gather seeds from plants such as poppies, love-in-a-mist, bellflowers and foxgloves. Store them in labelled paper bags in a cool, dry place for sowing or scattering next spring. Or, just scatter them around your garden now and hope for the best.
  5. Leave parts of the garden undisturbed, as ground nesting bumblebee queens may be looking for a snug place to spend the winter.
  6. Ditch the weed killers and pesticides. 
  7.  You can put up bee hotels now, but you probably won’t get any visitors until next spring. You can make a bee hotel. We recommend buying ones that you can clean out in the winter and store the bee cocoons safely in a cold, dry, dark place. We have successfully installed these bee hotels under the south-facing eaves of our garden shed. If you want to see what is happening inside a bee hotel, you could invest in an observation box with a Perspex viewing window.
  8. It’s still not too late to drill holes in blocks of wood – 10mm, 8mm, 6mm and 4mm diameters and up to 30 cm deep (although some bees only need a depth of a few centimetres to nest in) – and screw them to a sturdy support. Drill holes in existing structures such as fence posts, or dead trees. Small scissor bees, yellow-face bees or resin bees may take up residence.
  9. Create a bank of sand mixed with some clay soil against a south facing wall for mining bees which like to burrow into sand. Create steps in the sand as some bees like to nest vertically and others horizontally. The clay will help the bank to keeps its shape after the bees have tunnelled into it. You may find Ivy bees (Colletes hederae) nesting in it next month.
  10. Provide a source of water for thirsty honeybees. This can be a shallow bowl or saucer with stones or pebbles in that the bees can stand on while they are drinking. Bees can’t swim!

For information on IDing and helping bees earlier in the year see my Bees to See in July blog here, Bees to See in June blog here,  Bees to See in May blog here and Bees to See in April blog hereBees to See in March blog here.

Haggerston hotels

haggerston1 Two bee hotels from the bee hotel workshop at St Peter’s have now found a home in Haggerston Park. LBH gardeners, Andy and Brian, helped Brian from Urban Bees, put them in a nice sunny spot.

haggerston3 They are high up, away from dog walkers and other park users.

haggerston4 The hollow bamboo stems should attract the lovely Osmia bicornis (Red Mason Bees) who will shortly be emerging from their winter slumber. Hopefully they will be checking into the wooden-framed hotel filled with bamboo stems later this month.

This is what an Osmia bicornis looks like. redmansonbee She’s browner and slightly rounder than a honey bee, but a lot smaller and less cuddly than a bumble bee. She does have a sting,

Home… sweet home

The first solitary bee hotels – made at last week’s community workshop – are put in place in De Beauvoir Square.



Brian at Urban Bees and Craig, the Hackney gardener who maintains De Beauvoir, are putting up a couple of the bee hotels on the south facing wall of the building in the square. It’s a nice sheltered sunny spot.

Craig is proudly showing off the new hotels he made with bamboo from local gardens and the wooden organ pipes kindly donated from De Beauvoir church.


Now we just have to wait for some warmer weather to see if the solitary bees, mainly Red Mason bees,