I am back to the blog after finishing a big commercial job which has re-kindled my first love, of pen and ink work. It is the most wonderful medium and I will be able to post more about the job when the website goes live. Also this week I have had to swap the tiny brushes for house painting brushes to try to catch up with the last bits of decorating and make the Ugly Bungalow more like home.
In between, when a ray of sun struggles through the rain, I go out and see what is happening in Bee World, aka the Empty Garden. The rain has done us some favours, newly planted trees have been happy and general growth of everything, particularly the weeds has been.. well …exuberant. And the garden is buzzing! Bees, hoverflies, and crane flies are everywhere. It really goes to prove that if you plant the right flowers they will come. And, joy of joys, I have woolcarders!
The Wool Carder bee. Anthidium Manicatum
A day or two before I made the last post about the Mason bees I went out to look at the Lambs ears, Stachys byzantina in the garden and there to my complete amazement was a very handsome male woolcarder bee sitting on a leaf in a (fleeting) patch of sun. I had noted it down as 25th June.
Male Anthidium manicatum resting on Stachys leaf. You can clearly see the 3 fighting spines on his abdomen. He must seem to be a formidable opponent
In the spring when I planted a tiny little new stachys plant, barely a couple of leaves, I had no expectation that woolcarders would come.
In this new garden, nothing of much interest for bees would have been here last year, except the spring blossom of apples, cherries and hawthorn and we don’t have many well stocked gardens nearby. I grew the stachys in the hopes that eventually these gorgeous bees might find me and here they are!
So the questions are, where have they come from? Where were they last year? If there is no domesticated stachys available what would they use for there woolly nests?
In the occasional sunny spells I go out to watch them. The male is extremely entertaining and constantly patrols his patch of flower spikes. His life seems to be one of perpetual vigilance, for intruders into his airspace and for a visiting female. He occasionally rests on a leaf but his current preferred lookout spot is the plastic cover of the pond pump. It gives him a good view of approaching enemies or mates.
Resting on the plastic pump cover
He is always on guard, his life a heady round of nectar, sex and violence. Along may come an unsuspecting bee or fly, innocently looking for food from the little purple stachys flowers and he is immediately up and into attack mode:…dart to vicinity of enemy, hover, assess threat and strike. He is very fast. The hover flies seem to be just an irritant which he chases away but the bumble bees seem to be his particular bête noir! I have watched him knocking poor unaware bumble bees from the flowers they are feeding on. He will hover for some time before striking. His loud high pitched buzz is very distinctive and I am noticing similarities in sound, flight and general behaviour to the earlier hairy footed flower bees.
The woolcarder family seem to be relatively late risers and don’t much like the rain either. It was about 10.30 am today before I saw them and after even a light shower they vanish..where do they go and I wonder where they spend the night. ( My bee friend and helper Alan Phillips told me that last year his male anthidium spent the nights sheltering in the toilet overflow pipe!) Bees certainly do seem to emerge at different times of the day, the bumble bees, I know are out at first light and fly till dark. As for female nest building, I have yet to see any signs of them“carding” hairs from the leaves.
Here are some intruders who make the most of his temporary absences.
An unwary bumble bee.
A little solitary bee who was given just a gentle nudge.
A glittering green fly.
A bee mimic who was chased away
as was this little hoverfly.
Here is another photo of the male taken this morning, showing his handsome white haired legs and yellow mandibles. They don’t seem to worry about me or the camera. I guess we are just too big.
This is, I think, the female.. they don’t stop for long, which is wise really!.. so they are hard to photograph. They are considerably smaller than the males with slightly different facial markings and slightly different spots on their abdomens.
For more information I have turned to my bee bible, the very excellent “Bees of Surrey” by David Baldock and I am fascinated to learn that Gilbert White of Selborne in 1773 was asking the very same questions. His Journal entry for August reads;
“Apis manicata. This bee is never observed by me ‘till the Stachys germanica blows, on which it feeds all day: tho’ doubtless it had other plants to feed on before I introduced that Stachys”
David goes on to write;
“the females forage almost entirely on labiates including selfheal, betony, black horehound,hedge woundwort and garden catmint”
My woolcarders also feed on the nearby labiates, including the big ugly motherwort and the salvias, but they especially love the very beautiful meadow clary, salvia pratensis, whose flowers are deep purple blue and which has grown quite well on this heavy clay soil. I hope it survives the winter.
I do have some selfheal, but have not seen it busy with bees yet, my betony is struggling to flower and my catmint has been decimated by the neighbours cats.. despite being surrounded by a twiggy fortress and a sonic cat scarer.. The things we do for the bees!!
It’s raining now and bee watching is over for the day. I wonder how long these lovely bees will be around and if they will perhaps make use of my bee house in some way?
Over the months watching the bees and seeing their very special relationships with plants has posed many questions. Every day there are more questions. Some will be in the next post.
Now I am back to prettying up the Ugly Bungalow….. sigh…” lipstick on a pig” comes to mind, which has always seemed a bit unkind to pretty pigs.