Buzzing through Autumn

Nature editor Peter Cooper reminds us there is still some Summer spirit from the insect world even as the nights draw in.

Photo by Will Hawkes
Photo by Will Hawkes

It’s that divisive time of year again – it may shine bright, clear and golden, but the air that hits your face when you step out of your door is ice-cold and snatches unexpectedly at your now sniffling nose. Some may love the Autumn, relishing in the opportunity to cloak themselves in duffle coats and scarves again like a maddened roof insulator and the childhood nostalgia of kicking dead leaves on a crisp amber afternoon, while others mourn the loss of occasional scorching days and default wearing of single layers, that only seems to have been a couple of weeks before.

But fear not, Summer lovers – if you want an inkling of the feel that the raucous season insinuates in our minds, turn your attention to ivy bees. Unlike many of our native bees, most beginning to turn in for the winter and hide away (how I envy them), the ivy bee Colletes hederae is on the wing right to the end of October. As its name suggests, their devotion to the pollen of ivy, which doesn’t flower until the Autumn, means their presence brings one last reminder of the heady buzzing of bees on a Summer’s day, when much of nature seems to be shutting down.

This particular species belongs to a fascinating group of bees called the mininig bees – not because they’re affiliated with CSM, but for their habit of rather charmingly digging nests into soft soils, given away by an incredibly neat, circular hole the diameter of a daisy head, with a teeny porch of excavated earth in front. Although these are solitary bees, the nests are built in huge communal clusters that aren’t difficult to lose sight of – and they’ve popped up right around the Penryn and Falmouth area. If you know somewhere with open, loose-soiled banks facing Southwards, you’ve got a good chance of spotting an ivy bee colony.

And if you do, its important to get it recorded – for much like iced coffee, tropical house and wet weather, the ivy bee is a rather recent arrival to the UK (extended) Summer scene, its first landfall in Britain described only 15 years ago. In the years since, BWARS (Bees, Wasps & Ants Recording Society) have been mapping the spread of these colonies across the country – you can submit any of your sightings here. What’s occurred is a South-East focused nucleus gradually encroaching North and Westwards – who knows what the map will look like in another ten years?

In a time when most media coverage of bees charts a devastating decline – one that is certainly true and we should not take lightly – to at least have some species not only new to this country, but growing in number, is a positive thought indeed. And when it can brighten a cold day, what’s not to like? Get out there, find your nearest ivy bee colony and just sit, watch and absorb the life going on in front of you – I challenge you not to be enchanted.

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