Fight for survival

We thought it was about time to pay a visit to the field over the road where we had spent so long trying to catch queens and where our own brood of bees is now feasting on broad-bean pollen. We thought there might have been a couple of nests there too which we wanted to check out for activity. We couldn't see anything at the supposed nest locations - we might have been unlucky with our timing - or maybe the colonies didn't survive.

Nor could we see much activity in the broad bean field - we were hoping to see some of our own bees. So, it was all seeming a bit fruitless... 

That was until we starting walking along the ditch where I had been catching queen bees earlier in the season. I coudn't believe how many queen bees we were seeing, working their way along the moss and poking their noses into it. The only explanation for this was that they were Cuckoo bees looking for nests to infiltrate, as all regular queens will have nested by now.

Sure enough, we checked a few of them out and they were cuckoo bees (Bufftail and Redtail). We saw a few workers too (bufftail & carder) mooching about near the moss and hoped to be led to a nest somewhere, but it was not to be; most of them shot off without us being able to follow them.

The other striking thing was how massive the queens looked! The cuckoo bees seems to be a bit longer than average anyway, but of course we are now used to looking at our small workers and tiny wee Holly, so that has distorted our perception. Can't believe only a few weeks ago we were trying to catch these huge beasts!

As we wandered along the embankment we suddenly spotted this:


We did a bit of research afterwards and concluded it was two bees fighting each other (not mating). At least of them (the one resting at the end of the video) is a cuckoo bee (vestal cuckoo) - an imitation of a Bufftail bumble bee. We are not 100% sure about the smaller one - whether it is a queen or a worker; but they are definitely fighting. We can't know whether the cuckoo was prevented from entering a nest or forcibly ejected. 

From what we can tell it's fairly uncommon for them to fight outside of the nest (or at least be seen doing so ). Fights are reported to happen over the nest site itself between regular queens, who will in fact fight to the death; presumably this happens in the nest site itself when one tries to take over.

It's not unreasonable to think something similar would happen with cuckoo bees. Although they themselves are reported to cohabit with a host queen (as well as in some cases attempt to kill the host), they are also potentially subject to attack and fight to the death.

That's what we're seeing here...