Thursday, 13 September 2007

Burrowing bees on Berneray

And you thought bees lived in hives...? 

Various news media (e.g. BBC, Times) and local bloggers (e.g. Stornoway rebel) today bring news of ... bees. The Outer Hebrides has quite a few variety of these, and thankfully less of the wasp (along with the midge, the most pointless creature ever). One variety of bee in particular - the Northern Colletes mining bee - has produced this attention:



It turns out that Berneray is a stronghold of this particular bee, which has the peculiar habit of mining. The bee makes a burrow on the edge of the machair in the sandy soil. Quite a big burrow at that - were the bee the same size as a human, proportionally it would be building burrows over 100 feet long. I may have encountered this bee before, as there were a few of them, flying at a very low level, around a particular rest spot between the machair and the beach.

Here's some more from the ScienceCentric website:

"Adults of the northern colletes bee are active from mid-June to late August. The male bees emerge first a day or two before the females. The females are probably mated soon after emergence. The male then dies and the mated female constructs a nest burrow which can be up to 26 centimetres deep — a considerable excavation job for an insect just over one centimetre long. The females tend to lay in proximity to others, so the nest 'aggregations' are formed.

They produce a secretion from glands in their mouths which they use to coat the inside of the burrow before laying their eggs in individual sealed cells. Each cell contains a food reserve comprised of regurgitated nectar and pollen that will feed the larva and then support the pupa through the winter while the bee develops. In June, the male bees emerge first and fly around the nests waiting for the females to emerge, and for the lifecycle to begin again."

Local crofting practises mean that this is one of the very few places where such a creature could survive; in the pesticide-soaked, intensively farmed wheatbelts of mainland Britain, it would not have a chance. Not surprisingly, the bee is vulnerable to all manner of things, such as coastal erosion and stormy weather.

All credit to this species for hanging on here, especially when faced with events such as the January 2005 hurricane which disrupted many of the Uist beaches. On reflection, underground makes more sense than a beehive. Apart from the lack of trees to build one in, a brisk spring gale here would quickly deposit every hive in the sea.

On a slightly related point, it's noted on the Western Isles biodiversity list that the scientific name for the Bumble Bee is Bombus distinguendus :-)


  1. Scottish Roundup » Blog Archive16 September 2007 at 21:47

    [...] to close, I’ll leave you with some the burrowing bees of Berneray, and some poetry. One good, one very [...]

  2. Doreen Jameson10 May 2008 at 21:22

    Hi There, Please can you help ? Bees have begun to burrow into the soil along a section of border in my garden. This is a "busy" area of garden where children play & I am concerned lest they get stung. I do appreciate all forms of wildlife but I would nevertheless wish to eradicate these particular bees in the interests of health & safety, otherwise the garen may become a "no-go" area all sping & summer long. Thank you for any assistance you can provide. Doreen Jameson.