Thursday, 21 February 2013

Thieving Bees!

One of my favourite Bees is undoubtedly that early spring Species Anthophora plumipes, also known as the Hairy Footed Flower Bee. They are sexually dimorphic, the male being a rich orange, fading to grey in later life whilst the females are all black with obvious yellowy orange pollen covered tibia.  I never used to notice these bees in my garden and can only assume that they are recent arrival to my home patch.  However a rich supply of Archangel in the garden gets them in quite nicely.  They are pretty specific about the types of plant they feed off, preferring tubular flowers such a nettles and lungworts. I'm not sure where they nest near me as they like clay banks in which to burrow.  My bee log mentioned in a previous blog seems quite popular as a bachelor pad regularly attracting roosting males.

An old Male Hairy Footed Flower Bee, making use of my Bee log.  Males use it
as a night time roost.   I've never yet seen a female use the holes as a roost. 
All is not plain sailing for these bees as I found out last spring when walking next to Stoke Weir, Radcliffe-on-Trent Nottinghamshire.  Both upstream and downstream of the weir are eroded clay cliffs, in places these readily crumble and consist of bare earth.  These westerly facing slopes catch the afternoon and evening sun and provide an ideal home for the Hairy footed flower bee.  However a nest intruder awaits in another bee of equal size to the hairy footed namely the cleptoparasite Mellecta albifrons.  This bee enters the hairy footed's nest and lays an egg on the provisions left by the nest builder.  Definitely worth a look, late March just downstream of Stoke Weir should do it.  They're pretty easy to spot as they are both quite large bees. Just look for bare earth on the bank and it shouldn't be long until a few are milling around, weather permitting.   

Mellecta albifrons - sunning itself Stoke Weir Spring 2012.
They are permanently on the look out for entrance hole of  Anthophora

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

The Minotaur Beetle in Nottinghamshire (A true Winter Beetle) by Lamia textor
Minotaur beetle spoil heap - Budby Heath, February. 
A little late this week for my weekly blog.   I was going to write on Sunday but the weather was nice for a change so I got myself out up onto Budby Heath National Nature Reserve, Sherwood Forest country. My principal aim was to try and find a one of our truly winter beetles Typhaeus typhoeus, also one of the few British beetles with a common English name, the Minotaur beetle.  Hopefully the photograph on the previous blog shows pretty well how they got that name, a fine set of Horns carried by the male only. In Nottinghamshire I can only regularly find them on Sandy soils.  That precludes finding them along the Trent Valley but they are pretty common at Budby and also on the Sandy Soils of Wollaton Park.  These beetles both male and female excavate and provision vertical tunnels up to 1.5 metres in depth, with side chambers that are filled with  mainly rabbit dung on Budby Heath and Deer Dung at Wollaton Park.   I used to in the past find them most commonly in Cow dung, when Nottinghamshire County Council kept Cattle at the park.  These have been gone several years now and it makes finding the beetles a little difficult. Well back on Budby Heath, Sunday, the air temperature was about 9 degrees Celsius, a little cool but no wind so felt rather pleasant, having been hovering around about this daytime temperature for a couple of days.  The upshot of the trip, I didn't see any this year, however there was plenty of Minotaur beetle activity.  It's pretty easy to find where they have been as they produce voluminous casts of spoil where they have been digging.  It is also pretty common to see Rabbit droppings near the entrance, waiting to be pulled down into the hole.  At times if the weather is right you can find the adult, they often sit at the top of there hole, I'm presuming that they are guarding it from intrusion, but I have now way of proving whether this is the case. Any how, I've not mastered inserting two photographs into one blog,  If anyone can give me tips then please let me know, so with this blog is a photograph of their spoil heap marking the tunnel entrance and on the previous blog are set specimens of both male and female Minotaur beetles.  I would be grateful if you let me know if you are aware of any other places in Nottinghamshire where these impressive and wonderful insects live.  

Finally - why are they active in Winter?  Well it appears they are originally of a Mediterranean origin, where winter activity avoids the harsh summer extremes of the area. Although our winters can be quite bad as long as their has not been a frost and and it's reasonably damp and mild they are active.  Best time to search for activity - Late October through to March.     

The Minotaur Beetle "Typhaeus typhoeus" by Lamia textor
Male Minotaur Beetle, Wollaton Park Nottinghamshire October 1997.  
Habitus Photograph of male Minotaur beetle, Typhaeus typhoeus to accompany blog on said species.  Found on Sandy Soils, right through the winter from October until March.  Best Times to look for them, Mild winter days when the temperature reaches about 10 degrees Celsius.  Places to look, Wollaton Park and Budby Heath. Size 12-20mm.  Only the male carries the pronotal projections. Females although having slight protuberances, they are awkward to see unless through a hand lens. Get yourself out there now, they have been active week beginning Sunday 17th February, and will continue to be active given mild weather for anther month.      

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Meloe proscarabaeus Sherwood Notts

Meloe proscarabaeus Sherwood Notts by Lamia textor
Meloe proscarabaeus Early April Budby Heath Nottinghamshire. 

Another dull and boring week here in the East Midlands.  At least it's noticeable that the days are getting longer. Also another week in which my experience of nature has been limited.  A Fieldfare on my Berberis picking the last of the berries being the highlight.  So what to inspire or wrihe a blog about this week.  So here goes, what I look forward to most in the spring is a walk on Budby Heath in North Nottinghamshire.  My target species are the beautiful solitary bee Andrena clarkella, one of our earliest emerging solitary bees.  You can find them if you walk on the Sandy paths, they have the knack of returning to a sealed hole in the sand and burying themselves rather quickly into their nest hole.  This has meant that I have always found them particularly difficult to photograph as they either have their head in the sand or are about to dive into their hole and beat you to a decent shot.  Also present on the heath in early spring the scarce Oil beetle Meloe proscarabaeus.   These fine large beasts can be found on the far side of the heath, be careful not to stand on them, although they are rather large they are rather ponderous.  These Beetles lay eggs in the soil, the larva "triungulins" climb to the top of  nearby plants and then have to have the good fortune for a Bee, at sherwood the species Andrena cineraria appears to be the host, needs to come a long.  The larva then hitches a ride to the bee nest where it then helps itself to the Bee's larva and its provisions.  A full and complete account of their discovery in Notts (My wife found them) and their life history is given by Trevor Pendleton -

Best Time to see them - March for A. Clarkella and early April through the month for the Oil beetle.  If you need exact grid references to see these chaps then write a comment I will supply off-line.

Sunday, 3 February 2013

The Lady of the Stream by Lamia textor
Grayling, "Thymalus thymalus". River Don South Yorkshire 
It's difficult to write an ongoing blog in winter that's predominantly about insects as they have by and large to be retrospective as very few are around. I don't get out much, probably doing what the majority of working people are are doing at the moment, leaving for work in the dark and returning from work in the dark. This week proved no exception. However I did manage to escape and get into the "wild" yesterday.  Up at 6.30am 50 miles up the M1 to Sheffield, pick my son up, who has just completed a few university examinations and needed a day out, and by the banks of the River Don, once one of the countries most polluted rivers.  The purpose to catch, what in my opinion is the UK's most beautiful fish, the Grayling.  Known as the Lady of the Stream it is an inhabitant of clear fast running unpolluted water, which nowadays includes the Don.   Grayling are a member of the salmon family possessing an adipose fin, a small rubbery fin positioned between the dorsal and caudal fins.  In Britain a good sized Grayling is about 10 ounce to a pound in weight.  

We had the river to ourselves apart from a "pod" of Canoes that made a brief appearance.  Birds noted included a couple of Dipper and Gray wagtail, whilst Nuthatch and Willow Tit were calling in the surrounding woods.  And we caught a few Grayling and Brown Trout as well, no monsters but  a couple of dozen fish later my yearly reaquaintance with the lady of the stream satisfied we both retired to the pub, a pint in the Kelham Island and a pint in the Fat Cats, in my opinion two of the best pubs in the World.  If you're in Sheffield pay them a visit.