Solitary success story

Most people are familiar with honey bees and bumble bees. These are social insects that live in colonies, each consisting of a queen and her many workers.  However, in Britain just under 250 species of bee are solitary, and as Athayde Tonhasca reveals, they are often closer to us than we might imagine.

As the name suggests, solitary bees live alone: there are no queens or hives. Having said that, it is the case that some nest in colonies, where sometimes a shared entrance leads to individual chambers. At this time of year you may glimpse some of their comings and goings.

Solitary bees use a variety of nesting sites.  Some nest in tree holes, others opt for cracks in dead wood or stones; but most select places in the ground.

Some chocolate mining bees (Andrena scotica), picked this wall for their homes.

Some chocolate mining bees (Andrena scotica), picked this wall for their homes.

In Perth last year there were several opportunities to watch chocolate mining bees going to and from their nests.  Behind the wall in the picture, each female bee dug out tunnels and built chambers in which she laid eggs and stocked pollen to support the larvae after hatching.

Solitary bees are excellent pollinators, but perhaps not as highly regarded as they don’t produce honey or wax, nor are they as easy to identify as bumble bees and honey bees.

Solitary succes pic

They are docile and harmless: please help protect them and their nesting sites.

The range of solitary bees is remarkable. Our colleagues at Buglife Scotland built a sandy bank at Forge Dam a couple of years ago, and last year it was by covered with bees digging their nests.  The red mason bees at SNH’s Battleby office were also very active last year; using the masonry of one of the buildings as well as the nearby bee house.

If you want more information about solitary bees, contact athayde.tonhasca@nature.scot