Bees, wasps and ants
White tailed bumble bee
Wall mason wasp
Common black ant
This fascinating family of insects are usually grouped together.
Bees are special to us, not only because of their beauty and fascinating lifestyles, but because of their pollination duties, especially the honey bee. It perhaps surprising that there are 250 different bee species in UK. The most obvious are of course the bumbles, with 24 different kinds. The remainder are ‘solitary’ bees that do not ‘hive’, but nest individually. However, many types nest near each other in colonies. A most recent addition to our UK list has been the ivy bee, first noted in 2001 and only in our area since around 2014. They emerge from lawns and borders in late September or October, sweeping backwards and forwards over the area for a week or so, meeting up with females who then lay eggs in the existing holes, whilst the male collects Ivy pollen to fill the hole in with. Several colonies have been found in our area and there are bound to be many more.
Wasps too are a complicated family, well beyond the yellow-and-black picnic-spoiling jam addicts (of which even this has three different types to ID) with some 9,000 different British species. Many are parasitoidal, using other insects and plants as sacrificial hosts for their larvae, and to plants, being responsible for many of our familiar galls, the round balls you see on trees. Then of course is that most imposing of creatures, the hornet.
And if we believe ants come just in black or red, we need to think again as there are over 50 species to seek out.
What's happening to bees, wasps and ants in Maidenhead?
To be honest, nobody knows! There are so few records on the national data schemes, and relatively few people with the skills or inquisitiveness to study them, so one can only guess. It is well known that the honey bee is in severe decline, but it is not the only member of its family to serve us with essential pollination activity and it would be good to see more local information.
What can I do?
If you have a garden, consider growing plants that can provide food for bees. Here are some sources of information:
Be nosey! Become inquisitive about the flying insects in the garden and sketch or photograph what you see. Armed with that information, there are excellent web sites to get more help from, especially ‘BWARS’ (www.bwars.com/) with its ID gallery and a recording facility for your sightings.
Get smart! Perhaps join a training course, such as the Bumble Bee course run by Thames Valley Environmental Records Centre (TVERC) - www.tverc.org/cms/content/tverc-training-programme.
Think local! Our county Wildlife Trust (BBOWT) has excellent on-line facilities at www.bbowt.org.uk/wildlife/wildlife-advice/bees/different-kinds-bees and you may consider becoming a member of BBOWT, not only to support their excellent work in the Wild Maidenhead area but as a means of increasing skills in identification and monitoring of our wildlife.
Observe and record. If you find a bumblebee nest, observe it using this nest recording sheet and send it to Wild Maidenhead co-founder Trevor Smith, email: trevorbugsmith (at) gmail.com.
Learn more: download this leaflet prepared by Trevor Smith; and read the monthly note on Bumblebees written by one of Wild Maidenhead's members, Adrian Doble, which you can download by clicking on the month below.
Helping bumble bees
Helping honey bees