Ivy bees share bankside bar as flowers turn to teacup fruits

Ivy Bee


Autumn drinkers at the ivy were a well-mannered lot, for they did not jostle or eat each other. There was plenty to go round, and bees, wasps and hoverflies alike swarmed around the flowers in a harmonious buzz. The wasps crashed about from bloom to bloom but the delicate hoverflies were more circumspect, making quick glides across, making gentle landings when their flight path was clear of bigger beasts. The smallest among the insects was little longer than a grain of rice.

Neither I nor anyone else had ever seen one of the creatures in the county before. It was worth practically sticking your nose into the blooms for a proper inspection. It was an ivy bee (Colletes hederae), a species of mining bee. It had a furry thorax of bright orange hairs, and a slender tapering abdomen with narrow yellow and black hoops.

The bee made its UK debut in Dorset in 2001 and by 2009 this continental arrival had tracked north-east to cross the Thames. Here, it was in a predictable location, satisfying its requirements among abundant blooms on a south facing slope on a light, sandy soil. True to its name it fed on ivy.

Within three weeks the bankside bar was near closing. The flowers had transformed into green fruits shaped like brimming teacups without a handle. Yet bees still sucked here.


On a bare slope a little along from the ivy were holes that looked as if they had been punched with a single-pronged fork. Inside the mouth of each hole was a tunnel several centimetres long that had been excavated by the now-dead females. At the end of each tunnel a female had laid an egg and packed the cul-de-sac with pollen and nectar.

Now grubs in the sealed chambers will be tucking into the provisions their mothers left them. When their supplies run out these grubs will pass through the coming months as pupae in diapause, a state of suspended animation.

Other bees epitomise the spirit of summer but these are creatures of shortening days and longer nights. For flowering ivy they may as well wait until September.



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Been a Beekeeper for 20 years
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1 Response to Ivy bees share bankside bar as flowers turn to teacup fruits

  1. Pingback: A Comprehensive Look at Beekeeping

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