What’s so special about solitary bees? Well, believe it or not there are estimated to be between 20,000-30,000 solitary bee species worldwide with over 240 species of solitary bee in the UK alone, making up 90% of our bee species.
Despite their name, solitary bees can be very social creatures and often nest close to one another.
The term solitary bee covers a whole host of groups including mason bees, white-faced bees, carder bees, digger bees, leafcutter bees and mining bees to name just a few. Roughly 70% of solitary bee species are mining bees and nest in burrows underground, whereas cavity nesting solitary bees prefer to live in linear nests of hollow plant stems, pre-existing tunnels found in wood and mortar, even snail shells!
Golden-fringed Mason Bee (Osmia aurulenta) © Liam Olds
Solitary bees generally emerge from their nests in the spring ready for the mating season. The males emerge first and, after feeding, wait around the nest for the females to emerge. Once mating is complete, the males die fairly quickly – what a life! The females then go on to start the process of nesting, selecting a suitable site to lay their eggs.
With the male eggs at the front of the nest and the females at the back, they will hatch into larvae and feed on the pollen and nectar that has been stored up in the nest by the female bee. The larvae develop and pupate, emerging the following spring and repeating the cycle all over again.
Pollinators, such as solitary bees, are responsible for around a third of all the food we eat. For some crops, wild insects such as solitary bees are considered the most effective at pollinating flowers.
Common Yellow-face Bee (Hylaeus communis) © Alexis Tinker-Tsavalas
However, due to the increased use of chemicals in farming and larger field sizes, their habitats have become increasingly under threat. There are fewer wildflower meadows and hedgerows, which used to provide ample homes to a wide range of wildlife. Also, as we build more properties and landscape our gardens, we unwittingly destroy solitary bee nesting sites. In some parts of China, pollination is already being undertaken using paintbrushes because there are no bees left to do it naturally!
And so… Solitary Bee Week is a week of raising awareness about the importance of these extraordinary pollinators, whilst suggesting simple ways we can all help the solitary bees.
Check out our Earn Your Stripes campaign, and pledge to become a Solitary Bee Hero!
Willughby's Leafcutter (Megachile willughbiella) & Andrena sp. © Lee Frost