Last week I visited a stunning local reserve with fellow young photographer Max Thompson. The area we visited was called the Bissoe Valley– an old mining site where a restoration programme set up in 1986 has now transformed the old an polluted works into a flourishing nature reserve. The habitats present range from deciduous woodland, regenerating heathland, small ponds and a freshwater river. This great mix of habitats makes it a great place for wildlife, and the focus of our particular visit was on a particular invertebrate…a small striped bee
The Ivy Mining Bee (appropriate considering the past of the reserve) is a scarce species in the UK, being restricted to the south-west. This is partly because it was first recorded just fifteen years ago, in 2001. The species flies from September to mid-November inclusive, as it depends upon the flowering of Ivy as its main food and pollen source. This species gets the other third of its name from the colonial habits of tunnelling- the nests are situated in excavated burrows as deep as 30cm in soft soil. The number of these nests can increase into the tens of thousands!
At the particular site in Bissoe, a small clearing in the scrub habitat saw a sandy area of bare ground possessing hundreds of these nests- amounting to over 1500 individual bees at least! As the day warmed up from the crisp start, it was great to gradually see individuals popping out of the burrows, perhaps taking a little time to warm up outside the entrance, before flying a short distance and alighting on a nearby oak- now in full sunshine. More and more bees emerged from the maze of tunnels s the morning warmed up, until the area was quite literally a ‘hive’ of activity, with hundreds of bees darting this way and that.
An Ivy Mining Bee emerging from its tunnel
It was great to see some really interesting behavioural features, which max had previously seen and told me about. One such event was that of the mating. This process would begin when a queen- a much brighter orange bee perhaps twice the size of the males- would emerge from one of the holes, and proceed to be inundated with as many as ten different males. These would combine to form a sort of mating ‘ball’, full of enthusiastic males trying to perhaps get the best position on the poor queen. Eventually – for whatever reason – many of the males would disperse, and leave just one or two left with the queen. Then a little later, we saw the queen fly off with the successful male, and the two chose a spot on an oak a little way away to conclude the process.
A mating ‘ball’ ( in the bee world, there are roughly seven males to a female)
Some more images of this smart species: