Spring bees and wasps

Spring bees and wasps

Buff-tailed bumblebee by Chris Gomersall/2020VISION

Meteorologically spring has sprung but for me personally spring begins when I start to see the first bees emerging after what feels like a long winter.

In this series of blogs I am going to introduce some of the bees and wasps we are likely to see around Greater Manchester and Lancashire as the months progress and hopefully you will be able to observe as they visit your gardens or nearby green spaces. 

Around the beginning of March is when we start to see bumblebee queens emerge from their overwintering sites here, the first usually being Bombus terrestris (Buff tailed bumblebees), Bombus hypnorum (Tree bumblebees), Bombus pratorum (Early bumblebees) and Bombus lapidarius (Red tailed bumblebees) . I recorded my first bumblebee on 2nd March this year - a Bombus terrestris queen. 

Bombus terrestris

Freshly emerged Bombus terrestris (buff tailed bumblebee) by Karen McCartney

These newly emerging queens will have mated the previous year and will have spent winter tucked away waiting for spring. On emergence she will first need to replenish any body fats she used over winter and then the work of finding a nest site and laying and rearing her first workers begins. Bumblebee colonies will need a good source of both nectar and pollen throughout the nest cycle so providing good, early flowering plants that provide both resources will certainly see them visiting your garden. 

It isn’t just the bumblebees that we are likely to see around this time, our region has an abundance of early emerging solitary bees too. Andrena clarkella is a willow specialist, provisioning her nests with willow pollen only but will nectar from other flowers. Andrena clarkella nests in the ground, often in large aggregations and is one of the earliest solitary bees I find here in Manchester. 

Adrena clarkella

Adrena clarkella by Elizabeth Mitchener

We also find Andrena bicolor here, a tiny mining bee that can be found in a variety of habitats. Andrena bicolor has a spring generation and a summer generation later in the year and utilises a range of flowers to provision their nests. A very small bee that nests singly or in loose aggregations and is common here. 

Adrena bicolour

Adrena bicolor by Karen McCartney

Andrena fulva (the tawny mining bee) is a bee that many people recognise and is on the wing now. The females have a rich, foxy red pile with black pollen collecting hairs and the males a bright white mustache. They are described as found in a variety of habitats although I usually find them nesting in shady spots. Andrena fulva visits a variety of spring flowers and can be found nesting in large aggregations but I have also found them nesting singularly tucked under the edges of undergrowth. 

Adrena fulva

Female and male Adrena fulva (tawny mining bee) by Michelle Macdonald

It isn’t just the bees that are waking up around now. Keep an eye out for social wasp queens. Vespula vulgaris (the common wasp) is usually one of the first social wasps we see at this time of year and they will be emerging to feed up and start to build their own nests. Vespula vulgaris often builds large nests in the ground but can be found in loft spaces and sometimes sheds. Vespula vulgaris queens can often be found at this time of year nectaring on early flowering plants before they raise their first workers and become nest bound. 

Vespula vulgaris

Vespula vulgaris (common wasp) by Richard Lytheer

Huge thanks to the members of UK Bees, Wasps and Ants for allowing me to use their images and if you would like to learn more about our amazing bees, wasps and ants then head to The Bees, Wasps and Ants Recording Society website where there are lots of resources available and advice on how to record your finds.

Visit The Bees, Wasps and Ants Recording Society website

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