With temperatures reaching up to 30 degrees in some parts of Dorset this week, it’s hard to believe Summer is nearly over and Autumn is on its way. But leaves are already turning, swallows are heading south, and, thought their very existence is unknown to most of us – Ivy Bees are on the wing. Ivy bees (Colletes hederae) are relative newcomers to the British Isles. First seen in Dorset in 2001, this solitary bee species has rapidly made itself at home, with sightings, last year, as far north as Cumbria. Ivy bees are solitary ground nesting bees, each female digging her own nest and providing for her own young. Unlike honeybees and bumblebees there are no ‘queens’ amongst solitary bee species – only males and females.
So what do Ivy bees look like, and where are you likely to find them? Well, the first place to look is, as their name suggests, on flowering Ivy. This plant is a rich source of pollen and nectar for many of our insects, and essential to the success of the Ivy bee, which looks similar to a honeybee (though slightly smaller) with a hairy, orangey-brown thorax, and distinct black and yellow stripes on its abdomen.
The other place you are likely to notice these bees, is where they have established large aggregations (clusters of hundreds, sometimes thousands of individual nests) in lawns, cliffs, and south-facing banks made up of loose, sandy soil. They are especially active during September when the males give the appearance of a ‘swarm’ as they buzz around nesting sites searching for females.
The good news is that the males do not possess a sting, and to be stung by a female you’d have to pick her up and squeeze her, which clearly you would not do!