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Ivy Bees

Some bees are easy to spot, some bees are easy to photograph… some bees are not! Normally we wouldn’t be all that excited to share fleeting slow-motion videos of bees flying away… but ivy bees are different.

Ivy bees haven’t been in the UK for long and they’re so beautiful with their striking yellow stripes and amber fluffy bodies. They were first spotted in the UK back in 2001 down in Devon and since then they have slowly been slowly moving north and east. They appear when the ivy is in bloom (September and October) and we’d like to challenge you to spot one. In fact we’re curious to see how far north our community might be able to record a sighting of these little guys.

We are going to be sharing photos, videos and facts about ivy bees for the next couple of months to inspire you and if you get really keen we’ve started a project to track sightings on iNaturalist to see if we can understand a little more about these newbies… or should that be new-bees

Not Bees…

This is a ‘not bees’ post… now that we’ve reached autumn we’re gonna create a bunch of posts about books we’re reading. This is what the autumn and winter are for right… catching up on reading!

One thing that has been a big part of the past year has been research showing the scale of insect population decline. While loitering by bushes and shrubs to spot bees we see a lot of other insects… these are some of our favourite photos of hoverflies from the past few months, starting with a hornet mimic hoverfly.

Our first love is bees… but we’re also not so secretly obsessed with biodiversity too. Dave Goulson is a great example of a scientist with a passion for bees, biodiversity and inspiring folk with how easy it is to create change in your own neighbourhood without a whole lot of effort. His book The Garden Jungle is a great example of this. “Woodlice, earthworms, earwigs: a seething Serengeti lurks in many a back garden. Apiologist Dave Goulson’s wonderful book encourages such richness by delivering solid science on garden wilding… Goulson demonstrates that the domestic nature reserve is the first step towards saving the planet.” is how Nature described it

Eusocial Bees?

This is a Buff Tailed Bumblebee which we spotted in early October… and we’re only now discovering how extraordinary they are!! So they’re a eusocial bee… yep eusocial that lives in colonies of several hundred. Unlike Honeybees the queen partners up with just one male.

We’d never come across the word eusocial until we started reading about Buff Tailed Bumblebees. Eusocial describes a species that co-operatively brings up its young as a group… that’s the parents and the rest of the colony. In fact the cycle of the Buff Tailed Bumblebee colony is designed so that the generations overlap to help with baby bee rearing… clever hey!

Buff Tailed Bumblebees build their nests under ground often in redundant mouse holes. Many bumblebees nest at ground level which is what makes them particularly vulnerable to being negatively impacted by the use of pesticides or weedkillers… they’re living at the level where pesticides and weedkillers do their stuff on anything alive in the vicinity.

This weekend we started reading Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring; a 60 year old book that predicts the collapse of wildlife populations through the widespread use of chemicals. It’s fair to say that reading this is pretty frightening in light of recent reports of the US government haulting tracking of honeybee numbers despite widespread colony collapse and the reports of fishery population collapses.

Over the past year we’ve been exploring new ways for us to talk about the bits of biodiversity that maybe aren’t cute. We’re often meeting people who are noticing fewer birds in their gardens and yet aren’t fans of insects… which is a great starting point for a discussion around how things are all connected.

We’re convinced that these big challenges we face require people at every level of society to respond… from government policy level people through to us people in neighbourhoods with garden spaces. Conversations might seem small and insignificant but it’s in conversation and though trusted relationships where things can change.

More on Honeybees

Whenever we read about bees there is almost certainly a moment of awe guaranteed! We’ve always wondered why we have revived very few honeybees. In fact the few we have revived have tended to be cold rather than low on energy. Today we discovered why that might be!

So a honeybee has a special ‘honey stomach’ where nectar is stored and then delivered to cells in the hive to be turned into honey… if a honeybee gets low on energy when out foraging it can use a special valve in its ‘honey stomach’ to ingest some of the nectar and revive itself. Wowzers!

This is its own secret personal revival trick… and probably explains why very few people we know have revived a honeybee with sugar solution… some but not many.

One book that we know has planted so many seeds of curiosity in folk about bees is A Honeybee Heart Has Five Openings by Helen Jukes. We keep bumping onto people whose eyes light up when we mention it. It’s a book that has led many to a heart felt bee appreciation. So we are honoured to be welcoming Helen to Norwich to speak at The Book Hive on World Bee Day which is Monday 20th May 2019 at 6.30pm.

The event will be FREE! We’d love to fill The Book Hive with the bee curious and bee experts a like. Most of all we would love to see you there. If you haven’t already entered our competition to win Helen’s book then look back through our posts for an image of Dan’s hand holding it aloft. We look forward to seeing you there

Queen Honeybees

The secret life of the queen honeybee…. now we may be more interested in wild bees than the ‘kept’ honeybee but we couldn’t resist an opportunity to gaze into the mysterious world of a honeybee colony on a recent visit to Oxford…. and as soon as we found the queen circled by her entourage we were hooked.

Now she might not look all that different at first glance from the worker bees that surround her… but when she pulled her abdomen from the cell she was laying into there was no hiding her unique role in this hive. We observed her for hours inspecting a cell, laying an egg into it and then moving onto the next one.

Queen honeybees are extraordinary because then can control the gender of the egg they lay based on the size of the cell they’re laying it into. This is one of many ways in which the worker bees guide, and you could say, have control over the life of the queen. They’re the ones that feed up a worker with royal jelly to become a queen and they’re the ones who decide when an existing queen’s time is up.

It is a fascinating world and we couldn’t get enough of it. During our week in Oxford we also filmed some wonderful displays of waggle dancing and many many bees fanning the cells with their wings to regulate the temperature of the honey within them. The colony we were observing was in an observation hive at Oxford’s Museum of Natural History which is the one mentioned in Helen Juke’s book A Honeybee Bee Heart Has Five Openings. We look forward to sharing more of our observations soon