Dear Readers, one great thing about the hemp agrimony around my pond is that it not only attracts masses of hoverflies, bees and butterflies, but that it’s also at a convenient height for me to get a good look. And so it was that this tiny bee, only 7 mm long, suddenly came to my attention. I had thought that it was a hoverfly, but close up it’s clearly not – it has those almond-shaped eyes that bees have, rather than the big round compound eyes of flies. Plus, it was gathering pollen at an astonishing rate, although as this is a male it must have been for his own consumption.
Bees in the Lasioglossum family might be more familiar to some of my overseas readers as ‘sweat bees’ – I certainly came across some tiny bees in Cameroon that were harmless but a bit of a nuisance. You couldn’t take a mouthful of food without getting a mouthful of bees which was very unpleasant for everyone concerned. However, this Common Furrow Bee (Lasioglossum calceatum) is a pure nectar and pollen feeder, and didn’t give me a second glance.
What is particularly striking about the males is that their abdomens look metallic, and in some they have these red and gold stripes. I’m fairly sure that I also saw some males who were black with gold stripes. What handsome creatures they are! The females may nest together in aggregations, like solitary bees, usually in light soils, but they have also been observed in some areas as being ‘primitively eusocial’ – this means that there is some evidence of the development of workers and queens with distinct roles. The consensus is that in the north of the UK, where the flight season is a lot shorter, the bees tend to be solitary, probably because they don’t have time to rear workers and build up a nest.What ‘normally’ happens is that a single female will dig a long vertical tunnel with a tiny lateral chamber at the end, into which she will lay 4 to 7 eggs. She will then rush around feeding these larvae until they are old enough to take over the foraging, whereupon she will lay some more eggs that will develop into fertile females and males. Any resulting queens will overwinter as adults, ready to start breeding and pollinating again as early as the following March.
The Lasioglossum family contains over 1700 species worldwide (with about 30 species in the UK), and it’s fascinating to me that these creatures are showing such a wide variety of behaviours.
The males show a strong preference for flowers in the daisy family, so it’s not surprising to find one on this plant. Apparently the males sometimes ‘roost’ on flowerheads overnight – I shall have to have a look when the evenings draw in. The Common Furrow bee is one of the last of the solitary bees to cease flying in the autumn, with the last appearing as late as October.
We tend to think of bees as being large showy buzzy animals, but these little bees go about their business with a minimum of fuss, and if one ventured into your house I doubt if you would even notice. And yet, they are extremely active pollinators – the one in the photo didn’t stop flitting from one flower to another for the whole twenty minutes that I was watching. It really is the little critters that run the world.