Tag Archives: bees to see in August

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.