Late summer bees and wasps

Ectemnius sp by Pauline Weeks

The end of summer is fast approaching and we are seeing the new queen and male bumblebees in our gardens regularly now. New social wasp queens are appearing and male wasps will follow in the next month or two here in Manchester and the garden is full of solitary bees and wasps still busy stocking their nests.
Bombus terrestris sheltering under teasels flowers by Karen McCartney

Bombus terrestris sheltering under teasels flowers by Karen McCartney

As a bumblebee colony is nearing its peak attention turns to rearing the next generation of bumblebee queens and the males to mate with the queens from other nests. When these bees leave the nest they do not return so will need to find food and shelter themselves and many use our gardens to do so.

Often people will spot a bumblebee sitting around, a bit slow moving and drowsy and assume the bee is ailing from something or in trouble. In most situations that is not the case. Between feeding and mating activities they will often bask in the sunshine, finding a spot to have a rest or become chilled if the weather takes a turn, or can be found sheltering under a flower in the rain looking very sorry.

This is perfectly natural, and when the sun comes out again they dry off remarkably quickly and continue doing what they were doing, often wandering to the top of the flower they were sheltering under for a convenient top up. So next time you see a grounded bee or a bee sitting out the rain underneath the flowers unless it is in extreme danger of being trodden on just watch, they often take the opportunity to have a quick groom before they set off again which is lovely to observe up close. 

Bumblebee caught in rain by Karen McCartney

Bumblebee caught in rain by Karen McCartney

Colletes sp by Ciaran Clark

Colletes sp by Ciaran Clark

Colletes

Summer is the time I see Colletes at flowers here in my Manchester garden. Also known as plasterer bees, Colletes are short tongued, medium sized bees, some species forming large nesting aggregations in suitable habitat. Females use their tongue to line the nest cells with a cellophane-like substance that is waterproof and also protects against fungi. There are currently 9 species of Colletes in the UK with 7 species found in Lancashire. 

Lasioglossum sp in the 'morio' group by Eva Trelfa-Milek

Lasioglossum sp in the 'morio' group by Eva Trelfa-Milek

Lasioglossum

Lasioglossum are bees that range in size from the tiny Lasioglossum minutissimum to honeybee size, the females with a furrow or ‘rima’ on the 5th tergite or segment of the abdomen. The commonest Lasioglossum I see in my garden are the bees in the ‘morio’ group - a group of very small, metallic bees in which there are 4 species. Most common in my garden being L smeathmanellum and L morio, often found enjoying the chives, mint and ragwort or the thistles that grow at the side of the pavement. 

Ectemnius sp by Pauline Weeks

Ectemnius sp by Pauline Weeks

Ectemnius

This summer I have been very pleased to be able to observe Ectemnius cavifrons at a fallen tree where the decaying roots have been exposed and many kinds of solitary wasps have moved in. 

Ectemnius are medium to large solitary wasps that nest in wood and stock their nests with Diptera from several different families. Ectemnius cavifrons is a species that stocks her nest with hoverflies in particular and is impressive to watch her bringing back the paralysed hoverfly, often as large as the wasp itself, carried under her abdomen by her legs. Her burrows may be excavated although existing holes have been observed to be used and she stocks each nest with between 6 - 12 hoverflies per cell. Solitary wasps are garden friends so it is well worth keeping some dead wood around the garden for them to nest in to encourage them. 

Ectemnius sp female bringing a hoverfly back to her nest by Hawk Honey

Ectemnius sp female bringing a hoverfly back to her nest by Hawk Honey

Special thanks to Mark Creasey and the members of UK Bees, Wasps and Ants for the use of their images and to BWARS - The Bees, Wasps and Ants Recording Society for information.

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