On the hunt for Ivy Bees

I am very fond of ivy bees, and I’ve a few big clumps of the plant in my garden and in places I walk past with the dog, so as soon as I hear they are out and about, I start scrutinising the flowers for this charming little species.

As with many solitary bees, they often emerge en masse making the name ‘solitary’ seem contradictory. Solitary refers to their lifecycle and ecology rather than their social habits, and in fact it’s a veritable frenzy of communality as they all gather on their one food plant to eat, mate, gather provisions for their offspring in a few short weeks when the ivy blossoms.

They seem a bit late here for me: it’s usually mid-September that I start to see them. Anyway, after torrential rain for the past week, the sun was shining despite the breeze, so off I went on my quest to find them.

Ivy bees are like a slim, smart honey bee, which isn’t really fair as the ivy bees are crisp, fresh and newly emerged, and most of the foraging honey bees will be the tail end of the summer squad and consequently be looking rather work-worn and dishevelled. I always think that ivy bees are what honey bees would look like if the boys from Queer Eye gave them a makeover…

If you needed any more encouragement to forgo the effort of cutting down your ivy, just go and stand by it when the sun is on the flowers, breathe in the heavy scent of honey, and watch pretty much any self-respecting insect fuelling up.

Below is a gallery for you to test your insect knowledge (NB one is not an insect). Can you spot the ivy bee?

I was trying to get a shot of a honey and an ivy bee on the same cluster and I did manage it. As well as the neat stripes and svelte shape, ivy bees hold their wings directly on top of each other, compared to the ‘fighter jet’ placement of the honey bee’s wings at rest:

Ivys are also a little more focussed: there is less hovering and more simply moving from flower to flower. They arch their abdomen over in more of a C shape too, and they carry their pollen loads as pantaloons on their hind legs rather than as baubles in corbiculae:

Have you any ivy near you? I know some folk are critical of ivy nectar as it solidifies in the combs, but I wonder if this is because it gets cold when stored on the periphery in our poorly insulated hives?

2 Replies to “On the hunt for Ivy Bees”

  1. Count the legs… yes, one photo is not of an insect! But it seems to me that both pictures 4 and 8 are ivy bees – which can’t be right, if you’re saying only one photo is an ivy bee?

    1. Hmm now I wondered about that one but it looked too silvery and slightly small for a male ivy bee, although I guess if it were covered in pollen it could have looked paler. Not a great pic I grant you 😆 but I can’t find particularly up to date records of any other Colletes, and Steven Falk’s field guide suggests that some of the other species are not in fact oligolectic in spite of their names so I’m not sure…

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