By Ruth D’Alessandro, The Wildlife Gardener The Wildlife Gardener’s opinion was sought this week. It was a warm day and there was a buzz of commotion going on in the school car park. An area was coned off. ‘Swarms of bees’ had appeared. Children would ‘be hurt’. ‘People’ could die of anaphylactic shock. What were the powers that be going to do to get rid of them? What did I think? I think education, not extermination in most incidences. I approached the sandy car park bank:
There were indeed lots of buzzing insects flying about:
They were bees, certainly, but much smaller than honeybees, and some were very small indeed (about 1 cm long). They were emerging from myriad sandy little holes in the bank, buzzing about delightedly in the warm spring sunshine, as you would. I suggested that they were solitary wild bees (probably Colletes sp.) waking up and gettin’ it on to make more solitary bees. As far as I knew, they were harmless, so don’t call pest control before I’ve had a chance to discuss them with The Ranger and find out more. Lucky us! There are relatively few solitary bee habitats, and we have a great big one in our car park. Some solitary bee species in Surrey are very rare indeed so quite possibly we have some. What we are seeing are the bees emerging from their winter quarters. They are no more harmful than flies, in fact less so as they won’t bite or spread disease. The activity in the burrows will become less intense in time as they fly off and start setting up their own nests elsewhere. I went down to the sandy banks this afternoon to do some up-close observation and recording. Little bees flew all around and several landed on me. None stung. Some seemed to be tussling with others and rolling down the bank. I couldn’t make up my mind whether they were fighting or mating:
Another insect, hideous to the uninitiated, moved among the bees, seemingly poised to take advantage ” an unusual bee fly (Bombylius sp.):
That wicked-looking proboscis is in fact used for sucking up nectar, although the bee fly has a sinister relationship with the solitary bees: it lays its eggs in the bee tunnels and the grubs feed on either the bee larvae or their food store.
I could have watched the bees and the bee fly all afternoon, but the car park began to fill up. The Wildlife Gardener had to morph into School Run Mum with all its quotidian responsibilities. Happily, the wonderful school management, rural folk themselves, were very supportive of my’Save the Bees’ stance. An article (probably this one, edited) will go out in next term’s newsletter allaying the fears of any worried parents and highlighting the rare, overlooked, fascinating microcosmos at the edge of the car park.