A tale of nature, wildlife and birding from Cheshire, North Wales and across the globe....

A tale of nature, wildlife and birding from Cheshire, North Wales and across the globe....

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Pantaloon Bees and Bee Wolves at Minsmere RSPB!

Having admired the many photographs of Pantaloon Bees at Minsmere RSPB doing the rounds on Twitter over the past few weeks, I was longing to see these interesting insects for myself.
Pantaloon Bee - Minsmere RSPB
Pantaloon Bee - Minsmere RSPB
Sadly, at over 4 hours away, Suffolk was just a tad too far to travel just to get my fix of quirkily named bees (if they had been referred to as Hairy Legged Mining Bees I don’t think I’d have been anywhere near as smitten with them) and it looked like any chance to see them would be off the cards. Luckily for me, the stars aligned at the beginning of August when a Purple Swamphen touched down at Minsmere, positively forcing me to take a day off mid-week to go and see it and offering the perfect chance to simultaneously search for these fascinating bees.

With the Swamphen safely under our belts, we headed over to the sandy patches of ground along the North Wall where the Pantaloon Bees had been seen, a helpful member of RSPB staff on hand to guide visitors and help identify any bees or wasps.

After a long wait searching in the cloudy weather, a number of other interesting bees and wasps buzzing around to keep us occupied, we eventually struck it lucky with a single Pantaloon Bee, busy excavating a burrow in the sandy ground, the thick bristly hairs on the back legs getting caked with sand as it scurried backwards through the substrate before scraping it off revealing the beautiful furry hairs underneath.
Pantaloon  Bee - Minsmere RSPB
Pantaloon  Bee - Minsmere RSPB
Pantaloon  Bee - Minsmere RSPB
Pantaloon  Bee - Minsmere RSPB
It is only the female bees that have woolly “pantaloon” legs as they are the ones that sweep away the sand creating burrows in which to lay their eggs.
Pantaloon Bee - Minsmere RSPB
Pantaloon Bee - Minsmere RSPB
Truly fascinating creatures and the only species of Hairy Legged Mining Bee in the UK, we were totally captivated as we watched her dig out her burrow again and again, backing out of the entrance hole before dashing back in each time – amazing!!
Pantaloon Bee - Minsmere RSPB
Pantaloon Bee - Minsmere RSPB
Pantaloon  Bee - Minsmere RSPB
The majority of sandy burrows on the slope were also occupied by the ferocious sounding Bee Wolf – fearsome wasps that predate on the Honey Bees in the area, paralysing them and carrying them back to their nests in a rather menacing fashion.
Bee Wolf - Minsmere RSPB
Looking carefully, the Bee Wolves carry the Honey Bees in such a way that if they attempt to sting back, only the armoured part of the Bee Wolf’s body is presented.
Once stored in the burrow, the females will then lay an egg on the paralysed bee, ensuring the hatched larva has a sufficient food supply when it emerges. We saw several eyes peeking out of the occupied burrows, and these extensive tunnels can often hold up to 6 immobilised Honey Bees in chambers ready for the young wasp larvae to feed upon.

For anyone who hasn’t had the opportunity to experience these delightful and quirky bees themselves, a trip to Minsmere in sunny weather next summer is definitely recommended! 

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