Research Assistant Matt Hayes writes:
‘Globally, bees provide food, jobs and an income for millions of people. Some species do this directly, by producing honey and other products like beeswax to eat and sell. However, the vast majority support us indirectly, in ways we often take for granted, with bees and all sorts of other insects pollinating flowers. Crucially for us, many of these flowers belong to our crops, and estimates suggest that as much as a third of the world’s food production relies on pollinating insects.
‘Put simply, without these insects we would struggle to survive. This is why every year on May 20th people around the world try to raise awareness of bees and get others thinking about how much we rely on them. This is even more important for some of the less well-known species, which might not get the attention they deserve.
‘When thinking about bees most people tend to picture large colonies, as seen with bumble bees and honey bees, which have a queen and hundreds if not thousands of workers. However, the vast majority of bee species in the UK and around the world don’t actually live in groups. These solitary bees are usually smaller than their more famous communal relatives, but if you look carefully you can see them visiting flowers alongside other, larger species.
‘Different solitary bees lead slightly different lives but when the time comes to reproduce. Most excavate a nest in the ground or find a crevice in the side of a tree or building. A lone female will excavate a nest chamber by herself and lay a single egg, before sealing up the entrance and repeating the process. Many species of solitary bee collect and deposit pollen alongside their eggs so that their young have something to feed on when they emerge. However, some species are parasites and lay eggs in the nest chambers of other bees. The host offspring is killed, leaving the parasitic larva to feed on the now unclaimed pollen store. Larvae develop in the safety of their chamber, where they grow and pupate, ready to emerge as adults the next spring. They then repeat the cycle, searching for food and a mate, pollinating flowers as they go.
‘This World Bee Day spare a thought for the solitary bees, which do a huge amount for us but often go unnoticed.’
The Wildlife Trusts have put together a great guide on the different species, with information on how to identify them and ways you can give them a helping hand, including planting pollinator friendly flowers and building a solitary bee hotel.
You can also check out our very own blog post on creating a refuge for all kinds of minibeasts.