Ivy Bees

By Gavin Ramsay

The ivy bee, Colletes hederae, hasn’t yet been recorded here in Scotland, but may already be here.  First spotted in the UK in 2001 in Dorset, this attractive bee has spread rapidly, colonising all of England below the Thames by 2009, then in leaps and bounds through England and Wales.  This year it has been recorded just a few miles from Scotland across the Solway Firth.

Colletes hederae
Photo by Hectonicus, used under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alice 3.0 Unported Licence

It is a conspicuous new member of the bee fauna where it occurs, the last of the wild bees to show itself and nesting in sometimes huge aggregations in thin grassy and bare ground on sunny slopes near its favourite food plant, ivy.  They often draw attention to themselves by the aggressive nature of their mating with males pouncing on females at their burrows and forming clusters of mating bees on the ground.

This genus, also called plasterer or polyester bees, includes several similar species which peak in late summer, amongst them the heather bee, Colletes succinctus.  This group of mining bees makes burrows often in sandy substrates and, amazingly, make a secretion from their Dufour gland near the sting and use their mandibles to create transparent polyester linings of their tunnels to give their grubs a safe, dry and stable home underground.

This species has made large leaps northwards so keep an eye out for it anywhere in Scotland.  It is significantly smaller than a honey bee and the usual wasps but can be easily seen on ivy flowers through October and into November.  Try your local ivy patch one sunny lunchtime!  You might be lucky enough to record it in Scotland for the first time.  The App iRecord will take any interesting wildlife records and the bees and wasps records are particularly welcome being moderated by a BWARS team who make these confirmed records available to all.

Distribution map of Colletes hederae at the end of September 2020. Red dots are 2020 records, some of which cover dots from previous years. Bees Wasps and Ants Recording Society

Stop press! September 2021

The first Ivy Bee, Colletes hederae, has just been recorded in Scotland. This is its season, so look out for it on flowering ivy anywhere in Scotland. It was spotted by George Hogg who photographed it near Dunbar on the east coast.