Stopping and stooping to see the ickle bees

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Stopping and stooping to see the ickle bees

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I was wandering around the Bishop's Garden the other day in Chichester, admiring his herbaceous beds, and everything was as it should be on the wildlife front. The bumblebees and honeybees were running riot on the Nepeta and Eryngiums, on the Heleniums and Penstemons.

It would have been very easy to come away with the conclusion that those were the plants to grow for pollinators.

But something just about caught my eye down on the Achilleas.

It was as if the plant had tiny atoms whizzing around it, so speedy they were a blur. It was only by stopping and stooping that I entered their world and began to see what was going on.

It turned out a whirr of tiny bees was circling the flowers, each in their own manic orbit. Every now and them one would land to feed on the achillea flowerheads, but then they'd get whacked from behind by one of the circling horde.

I guess what was going on was that the achillea flowers were being nectared on by females, and the males knew this and were dashing about waiting for a female to arrive in order to have a whirlwind romance.

Now these were tiny bees, half the size and a quarter of the bulk of honeybees, and identifying such species is tough, given there are about 225 species of solitary bee. If anyone wants to take a stab based on the quick photo I got, then fire away:

But what it reminded me was not to get totally sidetracked by the rather deep-throated flowers that are well publicised for Honeybees and bumblebees. There are a whole host of other pollinators out there, so easy to overlook, that need flatter-headed flowers, open landing pads where they can feed.

I do have some other flat-headed favourites for smaller bees, but I thought I'd see if you loyal readers have some ideas of your own to share................

  • Great to get an email in from Louise putting an identification to my bee: "The solitary bee in is a Colletes species – no chance of full id from a photo.  As you suggest, the females forage on the flowers and the males fly rapidly around and try and mate with them (though they also will take nectar here briefly).  I get them every year on a curry plant in my garden, but on nothing else; they are obviously choosey. " Thanks, Louise! I did wonder whether they might be Colletes daviesanus, which is a wall nester in urban areas.

  • That got me thinking, it is easy to notice the fat bumble bees disappearing into a Penstemon or a foxglove but the smaller insects get missed unless you specifically go to look for them. Landing pad type flowers which are a hit at the moment in my garden are single flowered Dahlias, Iberis (Candytuff), Inula and although it is not a 'landing pad' flower, the Polygonum (knotweed) is covered in tiny insects.