Digger Alley - Updated


Explore, discover and enjoy nature at Minsmere. There's always something exciting to inspire a return visit to Suffolk's natural treasure.

Digger Alley - Updated

  • They seem to be earlier than ever, but it's time once again to get down to Digger Alley at Minsmere.  This is the stretch of path between the pond and North wall that's home to all sorts of Digger Wasps & bees.  The original stars of the show of course are the Beewolves, though they've obviously not perfected their technique yet and are getting a bit messy!

    A swift wash and brush up soon sorts things out though

    Most of the activity this early on hasn't actually been with the Beewolves though, it's been the Weevil Wolves (ok, so that's not an official common name - they don't have one, but Cerceris Arenaria doesn't really roll off the tongue, so down Digger Alley, they're Weevil Wolves!).

    They have a similar lifecycle to the Beewolves, but lay eggs on weevils instead of bees

    We've even seen them mating for the first time.  Though it has to be said there appears to be three wasps here.  Ahem, well, whatever rocks your boat!

    Sand Wasps too have been very active, there certainly seem to be more about this year than last

    They do seem to like these exceptionally juicy morsels for their burrows - they fill the hole in after burying them with small stones & bits of vegetation

    Every now and again however, they'll stop what they're doing and flop on the ground with their legs in the air.  I don't have a clue what they're up to, but can only assume their tootsies are hot!

    I've not even worked out what this one is yet - it's obviously catching some sort of small bee, though cannot tell what at this stage.  Hopefully not the Green Eyed Flower Bee that zips about!

    Finally there's this brightly coloured Jewel Wasp - it sneaks into every body else's burrows to lay its eggs on whatever it finds

    We haven't even touched on the bees yet.  Ah well, this year's bee pics so far aren't very good, so I'll see what this weekend brings :-)

  • Fantastic shots and a really interesting post.

  • Great photo Mr WJ. I don't think I'll put my beewolf photos on lol.

  • nickbarn

    Great photo Mr WJ. I don't think I'll put my beewolf photos on lol.

    Lol!  Don't worry Nick, I'll admit between you, me & the gatepost, these beasties aren't the easiest to get pictures of and you do end up with a lot of binned shots (of course, if asked, I'll swear to at least a 90% keeper rate. Honest! :-)).
    I think that unidentified wasp may be Oxybelus Uniglumis.  They normally take flies (this prey looks more bee like to me, but it's hardly the best angle to be positive!), but BWARS suggests impaling the prey on the sting (as appears to be the case here) is unusual, so I'm going to go with that as a tentative ID for now
  • Excellent shots, If you look at the one in flight you could make an emoji out of it, it looks like a face smiling lol

  • Very nice WJ.


  • Paul A

    Fantastic shots and a really interesting post.

    They really are the most fascinating subjects to watch.  Mrs WJ and I have been watching the insects along this bit of path for a few years now and each year we see things we haven't before.  This year it's Weevil Wolves mating and leg waving sand wasps - and last weekend was the first opportunity since last summer to observe them.  So who knows what else we'll see in coming weeks.  I actually invested in a second macro lens a few weeks ago especially so Mrs WJ and I didn't have to share one when these guys appeared.  And that was excellent until AF packed up on it halfway through Sunday <sigh>  Ah well, at least the 100-400 is great for insects as well!
  • Bearofbarham

    Excellent shots, If you look at the one in flight you could make an emoji out of it, it looks like a face smiling lol

    Hahaha!  Very true.  The Weevil and Bee Wolves have very different faces, as you can see in these two pics from a couple of years ago.  Both would be suitable for emoji-ing :-)
  • The weekend is over, it's been another couple of busy days down Digger Alley.  Before the sun gets too hot, the Beewolves stay indoors guarding the entrances to their burrow

    Once the sun warms the area though, they're all out hunting.  They'll travel up to a mile to catch honeybees, though the brambles beside the path were a handy corner shop for some of the wasps

    Different wasps appeared as well - this one has a similar face to a Beewolf, but the body has different markings.  Not worked it out yet, I need a more specific wasp identification book methinks

    There were plenty of in-flight photographic opportunities, with both Weevil Wolves (also known as Sand Tailed Digger Wasps I've now discovered)

    as well as Beewolves

    This wasp was digging in the side of an old rabbit burrow

    which is odd, because the closet I can find with research so far is an image entitled "Male Beewolf".  In which case, why is it excavating a burrow?  Hmm, another one for that better ID book!

    The Jewel Wasps were out in force again, sneaking into other insect's burrows, looking to live up to their other common name, Cuckoo Wasps.  Mrs WJ caught this one looking decidedly guilty

    Mrs WJ also spotted this rather brave hoverfly, blissfully ignoring all the wasps in the area

    Then there was a stirring of excitement - rumours of activity from some holes a little larger than most.  Peering out, is it, isn't it?

    Yes!  It's a Pantaloon Bee!  They follow a similar lifecycle to all the digger wasps, but being bees, take pollen down for their young to consume rather than other insects.  They collect it on their fluffy legs (hence their other name, the Hairy Legged Mining Bee) and are rather obvious when flying about in the sun - as you can see from this one returning fully laden

    Satisfied with the number of pictures she'd taken - and with a foot falling asleep due to sitting cross legged for some time, Mrs WJ put her hand down on the ground as a prelude to getting up.  Glancing down a fraction of a second before her hand touched the ground, she let out a sudden squeal of surprise.  Leaping into action, as any good hubby will do when his wife raises the alarm, I swung the camera round to take a picture of the offending individual.

    "No need to make a fuss" the Adder hissed.  "I was only curious what you were taking pictures of" he added as he slithered away....

  • Very nice collection WJ, never see a bee with that much pollen.


  • They are a bit overloaded with pollen sometimes :-)

    I've done a bit more checking on those pictures I wasn't sure of & now I'm reasonably happy that the unidentified one is an Ornate Tailed Digger Wasp (Cerceris rybyensis - we sometimes call them Mini-Wolf as they look like a small Beewolf).  The other one is a male Beewolf, they apparently dig a burrow as well, but just a small one for shelter

  • Never heard of these Beewolf untill now, I think I might have seen something like this on Anglesey years ago.


  • Another - surely final - update.  Mrs WJ was back in Digger Alley on her day off and got a couple more pictures of Weevil Wolves (Sand Tailed Digger Wasp, Cerceris arenaria) mating.  A useful pair of pictures to help ID the males

    and for those not familiar with the area we're talking about, this is Digger Alley.  The entire habitat is as a result of 70 years' worth of visitors walking along this path to the beach, eroding the sandy soil.  We have, by accident, created this sloping (well drained) south facing side to the path (on the left) which has been colonized by all the creatures you see above.  I rather like that :-)

  • Hi Joe, Please could you tell me what software you use to get your photos so sharp, they are fab.

    cheers, Paul

  • I'm processing RAW files in Photoshop Elements, but the key thing is trying to make sure and pick a decently sharp image as the starting point :-)