Bees like Buses

We were rudely awoken by the bin-men today and it seems our overnight Bufftail was too. BCW went downstairs to make some coffee and check on our guest and she was starting to stir. Within about half an hour (8.30am) she was up and away. It was threatening (and turned out) to be a beautiful hot day, so who can blame her. 

My plan was to make some box modifications, which I did and will cover in another post, including the rationale. 

I decided to go out at about 2pm to see if I could locate another Queen - having a resident bee, if only for a night, is rather addictive. And, if we are to house a colony, time is of the essence as most Queens will have managed to find a nest by now. The exception is likely to be the Carder Bees, which emerge a bit later from hibernation; we are now starting to see more Carders and fewer of the others (showing nesting behaviour).

I'd been out for about 45 minutes and was returning home along a ditch embankment when I was rewarded with a Carder Bee searching for a nest site. I threw myself into the ditch with wild abandon as we have never yet managed to catch a carder and I was determined to have a good crack at this one. I was successful. (BB24)

BB24 - Common Carder - if only the iPhone did macro photography properly!

I brought her home and we decided to try her in the front nestbox, mainly because it is the best equipped with video. Carders are supposedly less fussy about the exact nature of the nest-site too, so we felt we might be able to get away with it at the front (non-garden) site. 

She went into the box pretty happpily and did not show any frantic signs of searching to get out. In the end she stayed about 20 minutes, fairly near the entrance, then crawled up the tube and took off. Nothing special with her take off at all, no navigational circling or anything. This was pretty much as we expected, especially trying to introduce her to the box at that time of day - we didn't realistically imagine she would stay.

We then left it till 6pm-ish to go out to find another bee that we might get to stay the night. This time BCW found another Common Carder (BB25) and was able to catch her - two in one day! It goes to show how they are increasing in activity at the moment. BB25 is very vibrant in her gingery colour. 

BB25 - common carder - again, iPhone #fail on the focussing!By this time I had made some significant external modifications to both boxes - basically to add internal and external tubing (to simulate crawling underground) and a new "docking" arrangement for our collection pot. This would allow the bee to more easily be directed into the box and for it to experience a 15-20cm crawl into the box through a dark tube - more like crawling underground.

BB25 was very obliging too, going quickly into the box. The newly installed inner tube leads the bee slightly to the right and she tottered off in that direction, right into good view of the infra-red camera. She poked around a little from side to side, as if to establish the basic width of the space, but not as if she was looking for the entrance/exit again. Then she burrowed a little under the bedding, before picking a spot where she stuck her head down into the bedding and basically went to sleep.

We watched fairly closely for about 90 minutes, as it was still light and warm outside (about 18 degrees) and we felt she still might leave. Every so often she moved up and down a little, adjusted a little, but then rested still again. Part of this activity, including some up-and-down repetitions with her abdomen, could be related to her "breathing" which is thought to occur in bursts every 20-30 minutes.  

BB25 bedded down for the night, face first!The redtails got a look-in too

It wasn't all a "Carder" day. While out looking in the evening the first bee I spotted was a redtail queen. I followed it under some trees and it darted into a hole in the mud. I thought I could easily catch her there and that she was definitely in the right place to be hunting for a nest site. After 30 seconds when she hadn't come out of the hole I began to think maybe this was a nest site. Then when I saw a baby worker bee emerging from the hole, I knew we had found a nest. (And by the way, that baby worker was so cute!)


Redtail nest site - hole under some treesThe hole is in some dried out mud under some trees and about 3 inches in diameter. I'm actually quite intrigued to understand how the hole got there and what it's like underground; wishing I had an endoscopic camera!  This is exciting because it means even if we don't get any nesting in our own nestboxes, within 60 seconds of the house we'll be able to observe the comings and goings of this nest. 

At the time BCW was catching her Carder Bee, I was heading to meet her having found nothing, and then quite unexpectedly saw a redtail bumbling around in the long grass; I couldn't believe my luck, thinking we might have two bees staying the night, and I was able to catch her quite easily. As soon as I had done so I was quite suspicious. She was a bit longer than the redtail bumbles we have caught and her tail had less hair. She basically looked longer and more scrawny. And, although her legs were hard to examine properly through my glass pot, they didn't seem to have the long hairs on them. I came to the conclusion she was a cuckoo bee. 

 BB26 - redtail cuckoo beeBCW agreed with me; you can see from the picture the general lack of hairiness that is associated with 'regular' bumblebees; and look at those crazy long legs! - she basically seems like a poor copy. It's good that we are both developing our identification skills, as we do not want to introduce a cuckoo bee to our nest to find she comes back later and destroys a developing colony. So, with a certain sense of achievement, we let her go.