After a tip-off from Matt about some interesting bees on the Maer – an area of sandy grassland behind the shoreline on Exmouth beach – and seeing his blog, I popped down at lunchtime today to see what I could find. The bees were, literally, under your feet; or, more accurately, they were in nest burrows under your feet. The Maer has a series of sandy depressions – small sandpits dug out by weather and rabbits – and in every face were the holes of solitary bees.
Once you see them they are everywhere, though I’ve been down there often enough and not noticed. I suspect that for an expert they hold a number of different bees, but the ones I picked out were these …
They are (I think) Silvery Leafcutter Bees (Megachile leachella) – females, judging by the double white hair patches on tergite 6 (below) and the silvery, white pollen brush under the abdomen.
Alongside these Leafcutters, two others were burrowing. First, this bee with a red abdomen which I can’t identify – but perhaps one of the Blood Bees, Sphecodes pellucidus (Sandpit Blood Bee) maybe?
Second, was the main thing I’d come down to try to find … though as I saw this head poking out of its burrow I didn’t know I’d found it.
Each time I approached with the camera the head retreated, and then came out again once all was quiet. I assumed it was another bee, however it wasn’t long before a colleague appeared in full view sporting the same yellow pattern on her face …
This is the Beewolf –Philanthus triangulum – here a female with the reddish colour at the top of each leg and at the back of the head. It’s a wasp and preys on honey bees, stinging them in such a way that they are paralysed, though not immediately killed. Though the wasp itself feeds on nectar, the larvae are carnivorous, requiring the it to provide other insects to feed on. Its solution is to stock each of the nest holes it makes – side alleys off its main burrow and up to 30 of them – with a paralysed honeybee in which it has laid eggs. As these hatch the larvae eat the bee; a gruesome, but effective solution. Once I’d seen one so others appeared and in fact despite being nationally pretty uncommon, the Maer is clearly holding a reasonable number of them.
At the other side of the Maer, a different species of bee was also busy. Rather than horizontal holes in a sand wall, here there were a set of 30-40 little mounds of sand, like a lunar landscape. Around them, buzzing low over the ground, were these Pantaloon Bees – Dasypoda hirtipes.
It’s not hard to see the origin of the name, the females sporting ‘Pantaloons’ composed of exaggerated pollen brushes on the hind legs. It was quite a sight, with bees everywhere, heading into their holes laden with pollen and then reversing out, using their pollen brushes to sweep sand away. Though they are solitary, there is clearly some sort of social arrangement going on here too, with the holes neatly spaced out creating the sense of a well organised colony.
Just 30 mins wandering the Maer brought lots of things to see – at least five species of bee/wasp as well as plenty of butterflies on the wing. It was a beautiful day … and in the sunshine love was in the air in the form of these Gatekeepers which flew together, locked in a mating embrace.
Happy days …