Ivy bees (Colletes hederae) were first seen in the British Isles in Dorset in 2001, having arrived from continental Europe.
They were only described in 1993, yet seeing them now buzzing around ivy blossom, it’s clear that they’ve made themselves at home.
The Bees, Wasps and Ants Recording Scheme (BWARS) is monitoring the spread of the ivy bee and needs your recordings.
What to look for
Ivy bees feed exclusively on the nectar of ivy flowers. To cash in on this autumnal bounty, they emerge in mid- or late September and are on the wing until early November.
They are the latest solitary bees to emerge and because there are so few other bees around at this time of year, are easy to identify.
They look like small honeybees wearing orange-striped football jerseys and have furry ginger thoraxes, which are obvious as they bustle over the green balls of ivy blossom. Sometimes you’ll see several of them on the flowers if there is a nest site nearby.
Where to look
Ivy bees like patches of flowering ivy in sunny spots, often in gardens. They are now locally common in many places in southern England and are spreading north into the Midlands and west into Wales.
In 2013, they reached Shropshire and are continuing to spread. They are expected to reach more sites this autumn.
Ivy bee behaviour
Unlike the larger honeybee, which is a social insect and has queens, drones and workers, the ivy bee is solitary.
After mating, a female ivy bee digs her burrow in loose earth or sand, and creates underground chambers. She lays several eggs which she supplies with pollen as food for the grubs when they hatch.
She dies after a few weeks but the grubs pupate and become adults, staying underground until autumn.
Although each female ivy bee digs her own burrow, tens or even hundreds of females nest close together in colonies, usually on sandy banks.
The male bees wait by the burrows for females to return before ambushing them. Many males may attempt to mate with a single female, forming a writhing mass – or mating ball – in their quest to sire the next generation.
Be a citizen scientist
If you spot any ivy bees, add your sightings to the BWARS survey and help map the progress of this fascinating new arrival.
Illustration: Rose Sanderson