Bee-utiful email on return from holiday

A pair of mating masonry bees photographed by A.M. of Clovenfords
A pair of mating masonry bees photographed by A.M. of Clovenfords

It’s good to be back on home ground again after a very enjoyable week’s holiday in the Kingdom of Fife.

Living land-locked as I do here in the central Borders, 40 miles or so from the coast in any direction, it was great to be so near to the sea for a prolonged period and able to experience all its moods.

The fishing villages of the East Neuk are a joy to visit and, of course, the fish and chips are spectacular too!

The countryside is mainly arable with very little in the way of livestock. It was strange to see so many fields without fences and in several places, I watched cauliflowers being harvested by groups of workers with huge knives following a huge machine which packaged them ready for the shops.

With so much of the countryside given over to growing crops, any wildlife tended to be concentrated into small areas.

I discovered this on my daily visits to a lovely little nature reserve near Pittenweem called Gillingshill Reservoir.

It consisted of a small wooded glen below a little reservoir, criss-crossed by a well-maintained path with wooden bridges.

The steep banks were covered in bluebells and I have never heard such a variety of birdsong in such a small area.

One thing I didn’t miss about Fife was the acres of oilseed rape in full flower which made me sneeze almost non-stop.

While I was away, I got an interesting email from A.M. of Clovenfords, along with a couple of pictures.

He told me: “The local village shop suddenly acquired a small swarm of masonry bees.

“Normally solitary, the only reason for swarming would be the presence of a queen. Got my camera, went back to the shop and, lo and behold, two queens come out of the hole and the mating starts.”

I did some research on this bee and it turns out that unlike other bees, they have no workers, no queens and have no collective nest.

The males and females are active from late April to mid-June. On warm sunny days during this period they are busy constructing their chambers in mortar joints or soft/sandy soil.

Despite popular belief, mortar/masonry bees do not damage brickwork and mortar, and only take advantage of existing decay. They invariably choose areas that get a lot of sun and are frequently seen on south-facing elevations of buildings.

The bees lay their eggs in their chambers, which they also stock with pollen and nectar. The chambers are then sealed.

The eggs hatch out as a larva. This feeds on the pollen and nectar left in the chamber.

The larvae then pupate and subsequently hatch out as a bee and emerge from the chamber. The period of time from egg being laid to the bee emerging may take up to a year.

The adult bees only live for a short period of time, approximately April to June, and the parent bee will therefore have died before the offspring emerges.

So, in fact, what A.M. had seen was not really a swarm, but several bees looking for nesting sites and subsequent mating. Nice one!

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