As autumn arrives the UK’s last emerging solitary bee appears in our gardens feeding on the common ivy that clothes our walls and houses.
The Ivy Bee (Colletes hederae) forages almost exclusively on ivy. It’s a fairly recent
addition to the UK’s bee fauna and our only true autumnal bee; it’s the last bee species
to emerge in the UK. The Ivy bee is a solitary bee that was first recorded in the UK in
2001 having arrived from Europe. The freshly emerging bees appear in September just as the wild ivy (Hedera helix) is in flower, providing the Ivy bees and many other pollinators with essential pollen and nectar at this late point of the season.
These are ground nesting bees that build their nests in suitable soil; the eggs mature
and pupate underground before the adults start emerging in September. They may
be seen en masse flying fast over the soil, seemingly together in social behaviour, but
while they can be present in large numbers these are actually individual bees going
about their business, seeking food and mating partners in the short time that the ivy
is in flower. These bees are quite strikingly stripy with very distinct yellow and dark
brown stripes on their bodies.
You can spot it feeding on wild ivy in autumn, but also emerging from
ground nesting holes in early September. You may see many of these bees flying low
over the ground rather frantically in early September. To the untrained eye it looks
a bit like a wasp.
How to help
Let ivy grow and flower in your garden. Gardeners can make a huge difference to
these bees by allowing the wild ivy to flower. Leave it clambering over old walls and sheds where it supports other wildlife too; ivy clad outbuildings provide roosting and nesting sites for birds, especially sparrows. Even the black berries are a useful
source of winter food for some bird species.
Avoid digging over areas of soil where you know these bees to be nesting. And
always leave an area of soil undisturbed in any garden to ensure any mining bees can
Image c. Liam Olds