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.