Yet More Ivy Bees

Dear Readers, I was visiting a friend in Walthamstow today when I passed a wall covered in ivy flowers, and I thought I’d stop and have a quick look just in case there were any ivy bees. And indeed there were! The ivy was abuzz with honeybees, hoverflies, bumblebees, ‘ordinary’ flies and a few wasps (of which more later). But of course I was looking for these little stripy critters, and there they were. In comparison to honeybees they are slightly smaller, and somehow ‘zippier’ – they can also stand up for themselves very ably, and weren’t the slightest bit fazed by the presence of a queen bumblebee about four times their size.

If you look closely at the photo above, you can see a) that the stripes on the abdomen really are very distinct. But I think an interesting diagnostic feature might be those little hairy back legs. In social bees, you often see all the pollen bundled together in a structure called a corbicula (literally ‘little basket’), but solitary bees like Ivy Bees don’t have these, and so they have to collect the pollen on their tummies (as in leaf-cutter bees) or on their legs.

In the photo below, if you look at the top left you can just see the backside of a honeybee – note that the stripes on the abdomen are not as distinct as in the ivy bee at the bottom left. You can also see a bright orange ball of pollen attached to one of the honeybee’s legs.

Don’t ask me who the critter on the bottom right is. S/he rather photobombed the scene.



So as you can probably tell I am very excited about finding these attractive little bees again, and to see them foraging so urgently. They must be making their nest tunnels somewhere fairly close by, probably in a garden that doesn’t even know that they’re there. This is the joy of having the time to stop and observe the goings on in nature, even if it’s just for five minutes (and even if it involves blocking the pavement and attracting strange looks from passersby).

Finally, I mentioned wasps, and there are a few about this year. The nests are starting to break up, and the wasps are footloose and fancy free, which is why they’re turning up at picnic tables. But some nests must still be in operational order because some of the wasps were still hunting for protein (which they feed to their larvae) rather than just snacking on the sweet stuff. One wasp was cruising around when it spotted some unfortunate fly trussed up in a spider’s web that was strewn across the ivy. The wasp not only approached and tried to cut the fly out of the web but, when it was unsuccessful, it flew through the web, making quite a kerfuffle of buzzing in the process, and then tried to extract the fly from the opposite side. It was only the sudden appearance of the spider that deterred it and sent it on its way. You might remember that I spotted a wasp actually going into an ants’ nest to remove larvae a few years ago, but this was new behaviour for me. Have you spotted wasps doing anything surprising? I suspect these insects are much more adaptable and opportunistic than we give them credit for.

And I promise to move on from ivy bees tomorrow. If I can tear myself away.

3 thoughts on “Yet More Ivy Bees

  1. Anonymous

    We’ve had hundreds, nay, thousands of these bees in our front lawn for 4 or 5 years around this time of year, and I now know what they are thanks to your post. I always thought it odd that I never saw one on any of the many nearby flowers (and thought they were being pretty rubbish ‘bees’ as a result) but never thought to look at the ivy encrusted old stone wall at the front of our road. Right now, there are so many cruising all over our lawn at a height of just one or two inches that it is frankly scary to walk through them and even more impossible to mow the lawn! I read that the males don’t or can’t sting but the females will if annoyed – my wife isn’t prepared to test that theory and has had them climb up inside her trouser legs so now always tucks her trouser bottoms into her socks when gardening. In previous years they’ve mainly built their nests in the vertical cut edge of the lawn but this year they’re also all over the surface of the lawn as witnessed by the hundreds of piles of sifted soil. They also spend a lot of their time exhibiting the frenzied mating behaviour you describe. This all lasts for a few short weeks and then, suddenly, they’re gone for another year. I have a few photographs although it’s difficult to capture the shear density of them and can’t put them up on this reply panel anyhow. We won’t be removing the ivy anytime soon as we think it’s all that’s holding our stone wall together so I guess we’ll be sharing our space for a few more years yet!?

    1. Bug Woman Post author

      I love this, Phil, and congratulations to you and your wife for being such good pals to these inoffensive little bees. I’ve never heard of anyone being stung by one, but I wouldn’t chance mowing the lawn in case the sound sets them off, as it sometimes does with wasps and hornets. If you did get any photos or film I’d be very happy to include them in a blog post, credited to you of course 🙂


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