A buzz about the ivy

Berks, Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust (BBOWT) vol­un­teer John Cat­ton dis­cov­ers that au­tumn is buzzing with bees

Buckinghamshire Advertiser - - COMMUNITY -

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

PHOTO PETER CREED

An ivy bee feed­ing on ivy

PHOTO AMY LEWIS

Ivy flow­ers pro­vide late sea­son pollen and nectar to in­sects in­clud­ing but­ter­flies

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