Solitary bees

Mouse over links for pictures; click for detail page.

By contrast with social bees such as bumblebees and honey bees, where a number of worker bees share a single nest under a single queen, each solitary bee female lays eggs in its own individual nest or nests. There are some 250 different species in Britain, about 100 of which occur in Essex. All have an annual lifecycle. Eggs are laid some time in the spring or summer and develop within the nest, usually emerging as adults the following year to mate and then repeat the cycle.

They nest in a variety of different ways. Mining bees, such as the yellow-legged mining bee, dig burrows in the ground and carpenter bees in wood. Some, like the red mason bee, use existing holes in wood – this species is important as a pollinator of fruit trees.

Other solitary bees likely to be seen in gardens include leafcutter bees, that cut pieces out of leaves to line their nests, and wool carder bees, that collect plant hairs for the same purpose.

These bees are a similar size to honey bees, but some solitary bees are tiny. The harebell carpenter bee, for example, is small enough to get into woodworm holes and also nests in reed stems.

© Peter Harvey

More information

"Field Guide to the Bees of Great Britain and Ireland" by Steven Falk covers all the british species in great detail, and with good drawings and photos.