A buzz about the ivy
Berks, Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust (BBOWT) volunteer John Catton discovers that autumn is buzzing with bees
AUTUMN is here. As summer morphs into winter, nature slows down. It is the last chance for wild bees to lay down fat reserves in preparation for hibernation, and for honey bees to top up their winter stores from a dwindling number of flowering plants.
Amongst those plants in flower now that are providing late season nectar and pollen is the often-overlooked ivy. And there is one species of bee that lives its short, active life feeding almost exclusively on it, the solitary ivy bee (Colletes hederae).
If you go to any of the Wildlife Trust nature reserves on a sunny day in early October and walk past a clump of ivy the buzzing sound from bees can be almost deafening!
A quick glance will suggest they are all honey bees, but closer inspection may reveal another bee, similar in appearance to but smaller than the honey bee, this is the ivy bee. Like the now common tree bumblebee (Bombus hypnorum), the ivy bee is a new arrival to UK and was first recorded in 2001.
Amazingly, over 90% of UK bees are solitary. They are gentle, nonaggressive insects and excellent pollinators. They are called ‘solitary’ because there is no queen heading up a colony of workers (as with honey bees and bumblebees).
Each nest is the work of a single female working alone. There are more than 200 species of solitary bee in the UK, which emerge at different times of the year to coincide with the availability of their food source.
The female emerges from hibernation, mates and seeks out an appropriate nest site. Each cell is provisioned with nectar and pollen prior to a single egg being laid. She seals the nest and dies. The fully formed bees emerge the following year.
In the case of the female ivy bee it digs a burrow into earth or sand, often in the vertical surface of a bank or sandy quarry, to create several underground chambers or cells where the eggs are laid, and nectar and pollen stored to feed the emerging larva the following year.
The adult ivy bee appears from its burrow during early to mid-September and is the only true autumn bee. It is the last solitary bee to emerge and may be seen flying until mid to late November if the weather is fine and ivy still in flower.
You can help bees and other insects at this time of year by leaving some ivy to flower in your own garden as a late season food source. The berries will be enjoyed by birds too, later in the year.
Learn more about the ivy bee and other bees on the BBOWT website, www.bbowt.org.uk
An ivy bee feeding on ivy
Ivy flowers provide late season pollen and nectar to insects including butterflies