Midsummer bees and wasps

Coelioxys sp female by Pauline Weeks

Is it that time of year already? As we move into July the early spring bees have finished their work and we start to see solitary wasps with more frequency and will start to see new queen bumblebees more frequently too.

Karen McCartney gives us some bees and wasps to be on the look out for.
Bombus vestalis by Karen McCartney

Bombus vestalis by Karen McCartney

Bombus vestalis

One of the cuckoo bumblebees and the most common of the cuckoo species I see here in Manchester.

Bombus vestalis parasitises the nests of Bombus terrestris - buff tailed bumblebees. The female cuckoo bumblebee often emerges a number of weeks later than it’s host and once the early work of a nest is done.

The cuckoo is often similarly marked as the host but larger and with darker wings. When the cuckoo bumblebee finds a nest she wants to take over she will sneak inside and hang around for a few days acquiring the scent of the nest and being accepted by the workers and will then make her move, either dominating or killing the original queen and using her work force to rear her own young.

Cuckoo bumblebees may sound like bad news for social bumblebees but the situation is more subtle than that. Although a cuckoo bumblebee can be bad news for an individual colony of its host species, it is, however, a clear sign that the host population overall is strong and healthy. Cuckoo bumblebees are generally much rarer than their hosts.

Coelioxys sp female by Pauline Weeks

Coelioxys sp female by Pauline Weeks

Coelioxys

The sharp tailed bee is another of the cuckoo bees that uses the solitary bees Megachile - leafcutter bees and Anthophora - flower bees as their hosts.

The females are very sturdy with the abdomen tapering to a very sharp point. The males have a more rounded abdomen with several spines on the 6th segment of the abdomen, and sometimes the 5th too.

The Coelioxys female uses her abdomen to cut a slit in the host’s cell and she lays an egg. The larvae have long jaws they use to kill the host’s egg or larvae and will then develop using the provisions left by the host to rear her young.

I have found two species of Coelioxys in Manchester but there are few records for them so take a look and see if you can see them in your garden or bee hotels.
 

Anthophora furcata by Nicola Garnham

Anthophora furcata by Nicola Garnham

Anthophora

The flower bees are a medium to large solitary bee, the males having partly yellow/white faces and in some species with fantastic green/grey eyes.

Most species nest in the ground or use cliff faces or walls often in aggregations. So far I have found Anthophora furcata in my part of Manchester and this species is strongly associated with labiates such as woundworts and Black Horehound. A very fast moving, noisy bee to look out for in your gardens. 

Dolichovespula sylvestris by Hugh Linn

Dolichovespula sylvestris by Hugh Linn

Dolichovespula sylvestris

Social wasps nests are starting to get busy now and one of the most common species I find here is Dolichovespula sylvestris - the tree wasp.

As is common in Dolichovespula this species has a short life cycle and tends to nest where it receives some cover from the elements. The nest pictured above here is situated in a hollow gate strut and was used the previous year by Bombus hypnorum.

In my garden I usually find new queens nectaring on snowberry but can also be found visiting hogweed, wild carrot and wild parsnip and cotoneaster. 

Stigmus pendulus by Jeremy Early

Stigmus pendulus by Jeremy Early

Stigmus pendulus

Last but by no means least is one of the solitary wasps - Stigmus pendulus. A new species and first recorded in Lancashire and Greater Manchester in 2018 nesting in an owl carving that was well weathered and decaying situated by a main road.

Unfortunately this site was vandalised before I could study it more closely but I hope to find Stigmus pendulus again nearby.

Stigmus pendulus is a very small, black wasp with red/orange legs and a very prominent, dark stigma on the forewings. It has been recorded nesting in hollow stems such as bramble but appears to also utilise old beetle holes in dead wood and the female stocks her nests using aphids.

If you have an old tree or any decaying wood in your garden or nearby look out for the tiny solitary wasps. You can often observe them bringing their prey back to the nest.

 

Owl carving by Karen McCartney

Stigmus pendulus was first recorded in Greater Manchester in 2018 nesting in an owl carving that was well weathered and decaying situated by a main road. Sadly this site was vandalised before more detailed studies could be undertaken. Image by Karen McCartney

As always many thanks to the members of UK bees, wasps and ants Facebook group for allowing me to use their images and to the Bees, Wasps and Ants Recording Society for the information. Special thanks to Stuart Roberts and Kevin Barber for their help with some text and images. 

For more images by Jeremy Early visit his website.

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