Macro ๐Ÿ“ท: this bee is Goodenough for me

One of the things I love about the insect season in England is the diversity. We are surrounded with doom messaging around wildlife in the UK – it really is too much – but that’s what you get if you only look for birds. The invertebrate world is far richer, more complex and fundamental.

In April and May the first of the nomad bees make their appearances. I spend a lot of time making a fool of myself trying to keep up with these solitary bees. They are extremely beautiful and very cool-looking. Twice in April I witnessed nomad bees in my garden and on both occasions they passed me by.

One afternoon while #WorkingFromHome I went downstairs for a break. I noticed an insect on the inside of the windowpane. It was a nomad bee! I couldn’t believe my luck. I grabbed my camera and attempted to get some photos of this now very slow bee (it was a cool, wet and grey day). I got some average images and then decided it was time to get this bee back into the wild. I ushered it onto my hand and found that it didn’t want to leave my skin. It gave me a great opportunity to take some better images. I’m not sure of the species, they are difficult to separate.

I had another bee-break but this time in my garden and on a better day. There was so much happening in the hedge I didn’t know where to look. I saw three nomad bees flying around and resting but never long enough for me to get a decent pic.

The sun dipped in momentarily and the cooler air forced the nomad bee to remain on this leaf. I got as close as possible. When I submitted the photo to iNaturalist someone suggested it was Gooden’s nomad bee. That’s… Goodenough for me. Now do people see why iNaturalist is so much more preferable to iRecord? You get help with your identifications, not just thanks but no thanks from our man in the shires.

What do nomad bees do? They’re parasites of solitary bees, with some species laying their eggs in the sites of others. Their eggs hatch and the larvae consumes the eggs of the host, before eating its food stash. Not nice in human terms (because we’re all so lovely) but definitely something that has been occurring for many millions of years.

Thanks for reading!

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Macro Monday: let’s bee thankful for wasps

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Macro Monday 20th April 2020

The warm weather in Sussex has fizzled out, replaced by cloud and a quite cool wind. It’s thrown the insect life back under shelter, but for a couple of hot lunchtimes when I nipped out into my garden with the camera and one encounter in my own living room.

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One of the more interesting encounters with the animal kingdom in the past week has been this ichneumon wasp. Like many people who try to photograph these insects, I find it very frustrating. Their diversity reaches several thousand species in the UK (not something we can say often in Britain) but they are so flighty that they’re very difficult to photograph. The best results for me have been when some are distracted on flowers in the carrot family (Umbellifers). Ironically, the inchneumon above was in my living room at midnight! Again, I can see one on the garden window as I type this.

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This is a Nomada bee that is a parasitic species. I had tried earlier that evening to snap some solitary bees and wasps in the garden, but this was the best I could do. In the way that landscape photographers lose their cool over beautiful light entering a valley, I feel the same about species like this and the wasp above. A book that helped me to appreciate that there are people far more passionate about ichneumon wasps is The Snoring Bird by Bernd Heinrich. It’s a biographical account of Heinrich’s life and that of his father who travelled around the world discovering new species. It tells the incredible story of his father’s flight from the Nazis in the Second World War and his attempts to protect his collection.

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Ichneumon wasps are also what made Darwin consider that such is nature’s cruelty, there can be no benevolent God. On a sunnier day I managed to get closer to a very small wasp. That is, I think it’s a wasp. Some solitary wasps are, upon closer inspection, sawflies or other relatives.

This may be news to some people, but we owe our way of life to solitary wasps. Bees, which are crucial to food production, evolved from them about 130million years ago and their heritage is far more ancient. Everyone hates on the common social wasp Vespula vulgaris, but the are many thousands of species that you slander when you say ‘I hate wasps’. As Chris Packham once put it, when asked what is the point of wasps, ‘what is the point of you’!

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Solitary bees are close relatives of wasps. One book I read said that bees evolved when a solitary wasp decided to eat some pollen instead. I’m not sure what species this is. There were a couple flitting around and resting nicely for their close-up.

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It was basking on the yellow leaves of the hedge.

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We have just moved to a new house (it’s quite old) and so I have been watching to see what the unknown plants get up to before removing or replacing anything. This is a geranium that seems quite popular with the local bees. This solitary bee was covered in pollen.

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That hot lunch break (also think I had some hot food) was topped by a seasonal first. I noticed that a hedge in a neighbouring garden had an unusual flight movement around it. It rested to catch some rays and then I could see it was a large red damselfly. Now that is definitely not a wasp.

Thanks for reading.

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