Recently I came across mysterious phenomenon – mysterious to me, anyway. Walking down a quiet road in my local village I passed a sandy bank, part of someone’s lawn. The bank was about four feet high and steeply sloped. At first I noticed a few bees hovering close to the ground, but when I looked closer I saw that the whole of the bank, some thirty feet or more, was pock-marked with tiny holes, above each of which, or so it seemed, hovered a bee. Closer inspection revealed that they were not honey bees but another sort, a slightly different shade and size.

A little research and I discovered that they were Colletes, one of a group of bees known as mining bees or, paradoxically, as solitary bees. These bees do not nest in colonies like honey bees with different roles assigned to different bees within it, but as individuals. Each nest is dug into the soft soil of a warm south facing slope and tended by a female. Their colonies can number many thousands, but the bees are completely harmless to humans and other animals. In fact they do enormous good, and are responsible for far more pollination than the much more famous honey bee.

Worldwide there are about 700 species of Colletes, and in Britain there are nine, and many are quite specific in their feeding habitats.  Colletes produce a unique, cellophane-like substance to line their nests. This substance, which like cling-film is derived from plant material, is very durable and hard to break down. It has given them the nickname Plasterer Bees.

The presence of thousands of bees in a lawn might frighten some people, but I’m glad to say that in this case it did not. Long may it be so: without them our countryside would be very much the poorer.

Like trains of cars on tracks of plush
I hear the level bee:
A jar across the flowers goes,
Their velvet masonry
Withstands until the sweet assault
Their chivalry consumes,
While he, victorious, tilts away
To vanquish other blooms.
His feet are shod with gauze,
His helmet is of gold;
His breast, a single onyx
With chrysoprase, inlaid.
His labor is a chant,
His idleness a tune;
Oh, for a bee’s experience
Of clovers and of noon!

Emily Dickinson


2 thoughts on “Cool Colletes

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