The bee world’s lone ranger
Say bee to most people and their first thoughts are of honey, hives, white suits and stings! But did you know that around 90% of bee species in the UK are solitary, meaning they don’t produce honey, don’t have a queen to protect, live alone and generally aren’t aggressive as they have nothing to protect. We spoke to Faye from Green&Blue, who told us all about them.
By Faye Clinton
Solitary bees are different to honey bees and bumble bees.
Some of the main differences between solitary bees and our other bee species are that solitary bees live alone and don’t swarm or have a queen, though they will happily nest close to one another. They don’t produce honey but they are really effective pollinators.
In fact, they’re responsible for around a third of food we eat.
Solitary bees are vital for pollinating certain crops, as well as flowers and trees. Parts of China already have to pollinate by hand because they have lost the bees, which is a pretty grim future we will all face if we don’t act now. We used to think honeybees were the most important contributors to crop pollination, but we know now that simply isn’t the case: all types of bees are important.
It’s pretty safe to encourage them into your garden.
Because solitary bees don’t have honey or a queen to protect, they aren’t aggressive, meaning they’re safe around pets and children (except where someone has an allergy to bee stings). Males generally have no sting at all and the females will only give a light sting if handled roughly. This means they are perfect to encourage into your garden or allotment and are a great way to introduce kids to bees.
Solitary bees have a short, but busy, life cycle.
Generally, across the 200-plus species, solitary bees emerge from their nests in spring/summer. Males emerge first and feed, then wait for the females. Once mating is complete, the males die off fairly quickly and the females begin the process of nesting, selecting a suitable site, constructing the nest and laying anything between 1 and 20 eggs, before they then die off. The female eggs will be at the back of the nest and the males at the front. Through the winter, eggs will hatch into larvae, feeding on the pollen and nectar that the female has provisioned each nest with. The larvae develop and pupate, emerging the following spring to repeat the cycle.
Our pollinators face increasing threats, with loss of habitat being one reason for a decline.
There are many reasons for declining solitary bee numbers, including increased use of chemicals in farming, less wildflower meadows and a loss of suitable habitat. With bigger fields, we have lost more hedgerows, which used to provide nesting sites to a wide range of wildlife. Also, as we build more and more properties and landscape our gardens, we unwittingly destroy habitat and nests as we do so. Green&Blue have developed the bee brick as a means of creating more habitats for solitary bees, by creating a possible nesting site for them in all new developments, gardens or walls.
Keep an eye out for details of #SolitaryBeeWeek coming soon from Green&Blue, and to see the wide range of bird houses, feeders and bee houses they offer, check out their website.
You can make a difference with your energy bills too – help tackle climate change that may be disrupting bee behaviour, and switch to Ecotricity.