Blogger: Emily Field, RSPB Volunteer & Farmer Alliance Project Officer

The other day was walking home from school with Tommy (age 5) whinging in the usual way "come on Tommy what's keeping you?”

he replied "I'm looking at the bees going into the ground mum!"

I go back and find, with Tommy, to my surprise, lots of tiny little bees, with shiny tails, and orange legs, digging holes into the sunny sandy bank where they've planted a new hedge outside the doctors. You could feel the warmth coming off the bank, and smell the sweet scent form the heather in the doctor's garden... the perfect place to set up home if you're a little digging bee! 

  Photo: Tommy pointing at the hole.

  Photo: Close up of the bee burrow

To give you little context, last weekend, Tommy had a major panic attack when a wasp walked over the seat next to him, and screamed so loud that we all thought he'd been stung.

So you can imagine my delight at his new interest. Of course the mum in me saw this as the perfect opportunity to combat his misplaced fear of flying insects... with a little research homework.

"wow- lets go home and look in the book to see if we can find out what they are..."

"remember they've got white stripes mum!"

We find my rather tatty old 'A Field Guide to the Insects of Britain' and quickly find a contender catchily named 'Dasypoda hirtipes' - so uncommon the poor thing does not even get a common name. Now, as the field guide is decidedly sparse on the details or habits of the species, to make sure, we decide to go back and take some photographs. When we go back, rather than busily digging as before, they seem to be buzzing around erratically, and flying up every time I put my little camera anywhere near them!

After a while Tommy got bored and made friends with a dog outside the surgery and declared he was going to sit on the bench and wait for me. I'm amazed by how few people asked why I was sitting on the pavement staring at a bare bit of soil with a camera (hopefully they don't all already think I'm mad!).  

Tommy proudly showed a few friends the bees he'd discovered anyway, and one friend asked whether they were some kind of solitary bee, I said that's what we hoped to find out, and pointed out what I thought to be a male hovering around, and a female digging (it is a cruel fact of nature that the women always have bigger bottoms and do most of the housework!).

  Photo: bee male hovering towards female

I finally got some great pictures of a bee digging, and we took the camera back home to double check our identification- there was nothing else that fitted the bill, so in our naivety, we decided it must be it! We decided to look it up on the internet just to make sure, and, found a picture that seemed to confirm our identification on this website. 

So here is the science bit...On checking their distribution map for Dasypoda hirtipes, we see that the nearest 10km square with them is about 20 miles away, so we decide we must record our important sighting straight away! Here is where I have to thank the lovely chap from the records centre, who patiently explained that Dasypoda hirtipes only comes out in July- but it sounds like one of the 60 Andrena Species. This is Andrena flavipes, female (the males are much thinner and less clearly marked, can be very hard to name with certainty). Diagnostic features are the orange hairs in on the rear legs coupled with the bands of white hairs on the abdomen (be careful, there are other orange-legged species). You photos show these very well. Be careful of pollen on the rear legs as this can hide the hair colour.

  Photo: Tommy's Bee ID book Andrena species

We feel really lucky to have been helped, via the magic of the internet, by someone so knowledgeable and patient, spending his evening helping some novices choose which of some 200+ different species of solitary bee found in the East they spotted on the school run!

As these enthralling little bees, have helped to cure Tommy of his fear of black & yellow winged beasts, I hope our record helps to makes a difference for them- and is the first of many steps for nature for Tommy - my very own budding entomologist!

 [Editor's Note: Find out more about what our partners at Bug Life are doing at the moment here.]

Photos by Emily Field.