LETTER: Spot the ivy bee this October in Ely

PUBLISHED: 15:04 05 October 2020 | UPDATED: 15:04 05 October 2020

Mating pair of ivy bees (L) and a single male ivy bee. Pictures: Supplied by Mark Welch

Mating pair of ivy bees (L) and a single male ivy bee. Pictures: Supplied by Mark Welch

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Ely Standard reader Mike Welch offers us an insight into the ‘charismatic’ ivy bee, and where it can be spotted this month.

Mating pair of ivy bees. Pictures: Supplied by Mark WelchMating pair of ivy bees. Pictures: Supplied by Mark Welch

In September and October, with the flowering of Ivy, the very attractive ivy bee can be seen in large numbers on ivy covering walls, trees and hedges in Ely, along with flies, wasps and honey bee workers.

The males appear first in early September, often in their hundreds, drinking nectar from the small ivy flowers.

In mid-September the numbers of females start to build quickly and by early October they far outnumber the much smaller males.

Ivy bee is easily distinguished from honey bee by having much more obvious broad pale hair bands across its abdomen, a thick pile of reddish-brown hair on its thorax and a fluffy white face.

Single male ivy bee. Pictures: Supplied by Mark WelchSingle male ivy bee. Pictures: Supplied by Mark Welch

In comparison, honey bee is much darker with a more muted appearance. Female ivy bees are as large or larger than worker honey bees.

The ivy bee is one of so-called “plasterer bees”, which line (plaster) their nest burrows with a waterproof cellophane-like substance that also contains a fungicide to protect the eggs from going mouldy, should the water-proofing leak.

Plasterer bees belong to one of the six families of over 270 species of wild bees in the UK.

There are nine British species of plasterer-bee, some of which are very rare indeed.

The ivy bee was only described as being new to science in 1993, based upon specimens from continental Europe.

It was first reported in the UK in 2001 from Dorset and is now widespread over southern England and East Anglia; it reached Cumbria in 2018.

Take a few minutes to wait by a stand of ivy in Ely on a sunny day in October and enjoy this charismatic insect.


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