The Solitary Bee
I am a solitary bee
on my own
I am not a queen
or even a drone
I hum a tune
From time to time
It could be a song
Or maybe a rhyme
Scrummaging in the soil
To toil and dig a tunnel
I like doing it
It’s lots of funnel! (I have a sense of humour)
I am a bee that lives aloneLesley Scoble – July 2021
Look after me
Queen Buff-tailed Bumblebee
(not a Solitary Bee!) looking for a nesting site
The bee who plays the lead in my B movie film clip is not a solitary bee. It’s a Queen Buff-tailed Bumblebee (Bombus terrestris) looking for a nesting site. When I filmed the bee in a city wildlife garden I thought it might be a solitary, but I have since found out I was wrong, and it isn’t!
My knowledge of bees leaves a lot to be desired. Nevertheless, the footage (it’s very brief—perhaps it should be called ‘inch-age’?) inspired me to write my poem about the solitary bee—so the world should be grateful! 😂
Queen Buff-tailed bumblebee (Bombus terrestris ) filmed in a local wildlife garden in the City.
Number of bee species in the UK
There are at least 250 (statistic from the Woodland Trust ) in the UK with the majority being of the non-social ‘keep your distance’ solitary kind. Some other sources say there are 267 species. Who is correct? I have no idea. Let’s just say there are quite a few!
I don’t know my bees from my elbow, but I know someone who does! Rebecca Levey, knows her bees alright! She is Conservation Officer at the Kent’s Magnificent Moth Project. Her work involves monitoring habitats, and helping with moth and butterfly conservation. Rebecca informs me that there are more recent discoveries of bees in the UK raising the figure to at least 270, with 240 of them being solitaries! So, that is good news!”
“Recent discoveries of bee in the Uk raise the number of species to at least 270, with 240 of them being solitaries.”— Rebecca Levey
“Well, I never knew that!”
A few more facts about the solitary bee
There is no monarchy in a solitary bee’s life. No Queen (so do they live alone in republican colonies? lol).
If you want beeswax to polish your furniture—forget it! They don’t do that. They don’t form a hive from wax or produce honey.
Honeybees shop with pollen baskets on their legs, whereas, the solitary bee allows the pollen to drop off—consequently, they are more efficient pollinators than their honey-making cousins (I presume they are related in some way?).
Solitary bees don’t hoard pollen like the honey bees do. However, they are top dogs (I mean, top bees) at pollinating. For example, one red mason bee pollinates 120 times more than a honey bee.
Wildflower coffee bars
Wildflowers are a primary source of nectar that the solitary bee drinks. Some solitary bees are very choosy about their diet and only visit particular coffee bars. I have recently heard that there is caffeine in nectar (I never knew that!) and it is good for them! it seems we are not the only species to get a buzz from our morning coffee!
Pharmaceutical caffeine in nectar
Caffeine is found in the nectar of many plants and it has been discovered that it is of medicinal value to the bees.
A recent paper from the Royal Holloway University of London and Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew indicates that caffeine in nectar can reduce disease in Bumblebees. There is a devastating fungal infection that is spreading from bumblebee colony to colony threatening the health of the bees worldwide. The disease cuts short the lives of the workers and stunts the birth of the Queens.
The scientific research has shown that caffeine could stay the catastrophic decline in some bees that are prone to the fungal parasite Nosema bombi (info from RHU site – learn more here)
They found the caffeine compound in many common plants. Therefore, by planting more of the right botanics in gardens, verges, open spaces and agri-environment schemes would mean that the bees can visit their own life saving pharmacies regularly. Wouldn’t it be good to see Bees the Chemist along every street?
The Red Mason Bee (Osmia bicornis)
Quote from my go to expert
“Red mason bees are a lot more efficient pollinators than honeybees, an exact figure of how much better pollinators they are depends on the flower species, so it’s difficult to say an exact figure. They are are more efficient because they have long pollen-collecting hairs on their legs that they loosely brush the pollen they collect into. Honeybees have to mix the pollen they collect with liquid to stick it to their legs which makes the pollen less fertile and also less likely to drop off onto another flower.”Rebecca Levey
Well, I never knew that!
Bee IDs by Rebecca Levey
Female mason bee
Females have black hair on their faces and will nest in bee hotels.
Male mason bee
Males have pale hair on their faces and are a bit smaller.
Tawny mining bee
Male tawny mining bee
Male tawny mining bees are skinnier than the female and have white hairs on their face (called a moustache!).
Female tawny mining bee
Female mining bees have orange (tawny) coloured hairs covering their bodies but black hairs on their face and legs. The females burrow into soil in ground including lawns, to make their nests.
See more of Rebecca’s beautiful photography on Instagram @skyesafari
Brown-banded carder bee (Bombus humillis)
Walking around the RSPB nature reserve (in 2019) I filmed bees buzzing on some wild hairy vetch. As you know, my powers of bee identification is not very good, so I am thrilled to now learn (two whole years later) that I captured a glimpse of the Brown-banded carder bee which is pretty rare!
The terrain of the Brown-banded carder bee (Bombus humillis) in Britain is confined to the chalkland and coast of Southern England. Check out where they buzz with the NBN Atlas.
This brief film clip can also be viewed on YouTube
I should like to thank Rebecca Levey, Conservation Officer, Kent’s Magnificent Moth Project, for her kind sharing of knowledge and beautiful photographs to this post. 🙏
Bee populations are in crisis. Meadows in the UK have declined an unbee-lievable 97%. Ninety seven percent!! The decline in bee numbers and pollinators is caused by many environmental reasons. Habitat loss and use of pesticides among them.
Find out more with the British Bee Coalition
A good site to find out more about their dietary needs and tips on solitary bee care is Wild Grow UK
The message is out there on the street!
Save the bees
Street art on a London street
The Art of Beeing
Artist Louis Masai (I think his work is bee-autiful!) is committed to a painting tour all over the United States. He will paint over twenty murals of endangered species in twelve cities across nine states in only two months! His website is worth a visit THE ART OF BEEING
Bee-ware, or there won’t be a solitary bee in sight.
Bee kind, avoid pesticides, plant more wildflowers, restore lost meadows, create habitats.
A small green space in the heart of the City providing a haven for wildlife and a peaceful retreat for residents.
This is not a solitary—but he’s on his own in my photo! The flower is Catmint (Nepeta faassenil).
Time for me to buzz off now,
Thanks for visiting,
Stay safe, stay smart and bee kind to yourselves 🐝