All about the bees blog

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The Hairy-footed flower bee

The blog post this month is submitted by Aoife O’Rourke, Conservation Officer for SW England.

This month I have decided to write about the hairy footed flower bee (Anthophora plumipes) as this year we have received many emails asking for help to identify this ‘strange small black bumblebee’.

Although the Hairy-footed flower bee can easily be confused for a bumblebee - it is in fact a species of solitary bee. It is roughly the same size as a bumblebee and quite stout with a dense furry body. I must admit this species even tricked me when I saw it for the first time last spring, as it is not found in Ireland, and as I am Irish my first thoughts were that it may be a melanic (dark variant) bumblebee. However, once I watched it perplexedly for a few minutes I realised that it couldn’t be a bumblebee, and that’s when I discovered this beautiful species. The males and females are sexually dimorphic, meaning that they look very different to one another. The females are black with orange leg hairs on the hind legs (fig. 1), whereas the males are light brown in colour (fig. 2) and have very long distinctive hairs on their legs (hence their descriptive name).

Hairy-footed flower bee Fig.1

Figure 1. Female Hairy-footed flower bee.

Hairy-footed flower bee Fig.2

Figure 2. Male Hairy-footed flower bee.

The Hairy- footed flower bee is typically a spring species, and can be spotted on the wing from early February until late June. Its distribution is mostly confined to southern areas of the UK, and it is commonly found nesting in soft mortar walls, or on some occasions in the ground. As you can see from Figure 1, this species has a relatively long tongue, and feeds from flowers with long tubular corollas. One of its preferred forage plants is Lungwort. As this species is early to emerge, it is an important pollinator of early spring flowers.

The key way to differentiate the Hairy-footed flower bee from the bumblebee is by watching its flight behaviour. Hairy-footed flower bees have a fast darting flight, compared to bumblebees which tend to be much slower and have a ‘bumbling’ gait.  

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Few and far between

The blog post this month is submitted by Sinead Lynch Conservation Officer for Wales.

In 2013 I was contacted by Charlie Elder, an author, journalist and wildlife enthusiast. He was travelling the length and breadth of the country trying to find twenty five of Britain's rarest and most endangered species, and he was compiling his journey into a book called ‘Few and far between’. As part of his book, he wanted me to help him find the very rare Shrill carder bee – no pressure.

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Moving on

After over three years at the Bumblebee Conservation Trust, I have decided that it’s time to move on to some new challenges. While I’ll be very sad to say goodbye to my workmates and volunteers, I’ll be looking forward to seeing a bit more of the world – and of course taking the bumblebee message to new audiences!

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Controlling garden pests without pesticides

With so much concern around the use of pesticides in agriculture, it’s easy to forget that pesticides are regularly used in gardens. Pretty much anything designed to kill insects or ‘bugs’ can also kill bees, butterflies, ladybirds and whole range of insects that people like to see. So what’s the alternative for gardeners who want to control the pests that chomp their plants?

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Bumblebees and Flowers: A Complex Relationship

We have a special guest article from Dick Alderson, who has been recording bumblebees at the same site since 2008 .  He has made some interesting observations about the flowers that the bees prefer to visit...

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