Solitary Bee Project needs the public’s help

Published: 31 May 2017 at 14:56

Ivy bee - photo by Dr Thomas Ings

Anglia Ruskin scientists appeal for help to better understand important pollinators

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Scientists are appealing for the public’s help to record sightings of common, but relatively unknown, native insects – solitary bees.

There are about 250 species of solitary bee in the UK, which means they account for more than 90% of our total bee species. They are so named because, unlike honeybees and bumblebees, they rear their young on their own.

The Solitary Bee Project has been launched by two scientists at Anglia Ruskin University – PhD student Stephanie Maher and Dr Thomas Ings, Senior Lecturer in Zoology at Anglia Ruskin – with the aim of learning more about these bees and where they nest.

Maher explained:

“Relatively little is known about this vast group of bees, particularly compared to their more famous cousins; the bumblebees and honeybees. 

“In particular we have very little knowledge about where they choose to nest and why. In fact over the last 25 years, only one academic paper has been published from the UK containing data about their nest sites.

“Solitary bees have a hugely important role as they help to pollinate our crops, trees and wildflowers. The aim of our project is to gain a greater understanding of how they nest and where, so this can be taken into account in a range of areas including agriculture, gardening and urban planning.”

The Anglia Ruskin scientists have chosen to focus on four species of solitary bee. These species all nest in aggregations (nests grouped together), making them easier to spot.

The four species are the Tawny mining bee (Andrena fulva) and the Ashy mining bee (Andrena cineraria), which both become active in spring, the Yellow legged furrow bee (Halictus rubicundus), which is a summer bee, and the Ivy bee (Colletes hederae), which is most abundant during late summer and autumn.

Maher added:

“Solitary bees vary greatly from their physical appearance to the way they live, making them truly fascinating insects to study.

“We just need as many people as possible to find aggregations, which are lots of nests grouped together, and tell us if they spot bees using them.

“If people think they might have seen nesting aggregations in previous years, perhaps in gardens or local parks, then we encourage them to take a closer look at those.

“Or perhaps people might want to spend a little time searching the ground on their usual walking route or daily commute. They might be surprised by what they find!”

To take part in The Solitary Bee Project, visit http://thesolitarybeeproject.org/. People can also get in touch through the @solitarybeesUK Twitter account.

Photo of Ivy bee by Dr Thomas Ings