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Homeless, some bees (and me)

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Monday 11 April 2011

Homeless, some bees (and me)

We have, over the last few weeks, been trying to find somewhere to live, so I found myself feeling somewhat sympathetic towards this rather handsome bee I found in the garden the other day.

melecta sm1[1] 

melecta 2 sm[1]

It’s Melecta albifrons one of the cuckoo bees. Here from the informative Essex Field Club site is a concise explanation.

“It is a cleptoparasite or cuckoo bee of Anthophora - this means that the bee (female) goes into an Anthophora burrow and lays its egg with the pollen food supply gathered by Anthophora. When the Melecta egg hatches the larva feeds up on the food supply intended for the Anthophora larva, pupates and emerges next year instead of the host.”

I have known about the cuckoo bees but this has been my first encounter with a live one and I, like others, was struck by its rather relaxed behaviour. It was just drifting about the flowerbeds, quite unlike the darting, purposeful flight of its host. It stopped to feed on the muscari and was not unduly bothered by my close proximity which enabled me to photograph it with my rather basic camera.

To read and understand more about this curious bee go to Blackbird’s unfailingly  excellent “A Bug Blog” and read her post “Melecta, a cleptoparasitic bee” and get a better look at the bee itself.

I have recently got hold of a copy of Edward Step’s 1932 “Bees Wasps Ants & Allied Insects”. In the fascinating chapterHomeless Bees”, he mentions 2 Melecta species but takes issue with the name……… 

“…we have to take exception to the scientific name. Melecta signifies a gatherer of honey, but as this bee has no cells in which to store it, she can be at most, a mere sipper of nectar for her own refreshment!”

Its perhaps easy to feel rather disapproving of these lazy bees but I guess they still perform crucial pollination tasks so are not all bad and are very beautiful.

Another Nomad

Another tiny cuckoo bee I recently came across is, I think, Nomada goodeniana which until a year ago I would have confidently thought was a wasp. A small cloud of them were inspecting an old stone wall on a brilliantly sunny Friday afternoon at Easton Walled Garden,  where I was doing a bee recce. They are very delicate and very flighty, constantly popping in and out of successive holes but not settling for long.

 N g 1[1]Ng2[1] Ng3[1]


They are really tiny. Sometimes without something to judge the size by it’s difficult to get an idea of how small some bees are. Here below one is inspecting a hole near a rose bush tag.

What has also interested me is that, the day before, I had seen this wall busy with these tiny bees (below) which I had thought might be mason bees. The day after they had gone and had been replaced by the I am not sure what they were? .. or what was going on.


Info tells me the Nomadas are parasitic on Andrena species.  Perhaps they are Andrena nitida .. but would they nest in a wall?? I am asking for help on BWARS.

Describing these nomads of the bee world Edward Step admits,

“it is, perhaps, not strictly correct to class them as Homeless Bees because during the earlier stages of existence they have admirable homes in cells that were never intended for their use: but the most considerable genus was named “Nomada” by Fabricius, indicating pastoral, unsettled habits and it seems well to adopt the spirit of his name for all those without homes intended for them”

Hmmmm….  all  this is sounding uncomfortably a bit close to home. My father’s house is a wonderful and welcome stopping off point but Nomada valeria here is so looking forward to having an “admirable home” of her own quite soon!

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Blogger Sasha said...

You might be interested in Bombylius major, the bee fly:

11 April 2011 at 14:39  
Blogger sharp green pencil said...

Hi there Sasha. Thanks v much for that.. Yes indeed I am interested in bee flies. I have seen so many here in the last few days. You would laugh as I was chasing around after them trying to get a photo. Just got a few shots of them but not very good.. they make me laugh because they fly with their legs out.. they are wonderful!

11 April 2011 at 15:40  
Blogger Sasha said...

That sounds fun! Amazingly, I got a fairly clear photograph of one using my iPhone - not good enough to be displayed, but useful for the purpose of identification.

I'm so thrilled by the number and variety of bees that are around this spring after the awful dearth last year.

11 April 2011 at 16:28  
Blogger Lisa said...

We've seen cuckoo bees in our little urban garden. Very interesting!

11 April 2011 at 17:18  
Blogger Africa Gomez said...

Thank you for pointing people to BugBlog. I am honoured. Yours are very good shots of the handsome Melecta! I have also been asking for help with the Nomada/Andrena duet. What often happens to me is that I tend to find two different species wandering around the same bush at the same time, which confuses matters for ID!
Good luck with the house hunting!

11 April 2011 at 21:08  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The bee on the wall is certainly an Andrena (something like A. bicolor or A. nigroaenea). Sometimes they'll nest in soft morter of old crumbling walls. They could also be just sunning themselves if it was a cool day.

15 April 2011 at 10:10  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

One comment you made in your post made me really laugh "where I was doing a bee recce". You do realise that isn't normal behaviour don't you! :)Must admit practically all my walks now turn into "bee reccies"!

Great to see the Nomada sp. and the Melecta albifons. Hope you find out what the "mystery bee" is.

Good luck in your house search. It's not nice being in no-mans-land. You need to "nest".

Bees in Florida are great. Have already seen quite a few possible Megachile (Sayapis) inimica inimica and a few that I can't ID... see

Love. Jane

25 April 2011 at 13:09  

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