Six-banded nomad bee
Britain’s rarest bee clings on at the cliffs of Prawle point in South Devon. It used to be scattered across Southern England, so why is it now found in only one place?
Latin name: Nomada sexfasciata
Rarity in the UK: Rare / Common
Where in the UK: Prawle Point, South Devon
A specialist life
Nomad bees are ‘cuckoo bees’; like the famous bird, they lay their eggs in other bees’ nests. When the nomad’s larva hatches it eats the pollen stores that the host bee gathered for its own young.
The Six-banded nomad bee’s choice host is the Long-horned bee (Eucera longicornis). The host is threatened itself, since it only feeds on a few wildflowers in the legume (pea) family such as Everlasting pea and Kidney vetch.
An early warning
The nomad bee’s lifestyle may seem to harm its host, but the relationship is not one-sided. The two species have evolved together over millions of years. Long-horned bees can cope with the nomads, but the nomads need strong host numbers to survive. The long-horned bees haven’t disappeared from the nomad’s former range, but the loss of the nomad indicates they have declined, providing an early warning that help is needed.
In the Six-banded nomad’s last refuge in South Devon, the soft-cliff habitats provide a warm, south facing surface of soft, exposed soils where many legumes can grow and bees can burrow nest holes- the perfect place for long-horned bees to breed. These ideal conditions mean that the cliffs at Prawle point house enough nesting Long-horned bees to support the Six-banded nomad.
Call for help
Yet even in South Devon, both species are declining due to loss of habitat. Farm fields have squeezed closer to the cliffs, removing the legume-rich grasslands the long-horned bees depend on. If this continues, the nomad bee faces national extinction.
Buglife is looking to help by planting the right kinds of flowers alongside the cliffs, and encouraging farmers to create wildflower margins to feed the long-horned bees and save the six-banded nomad bee.