There is a lot of bee activity in our gardens right now. In fact it’s really peak bee season. Not only are the Queen bumblebees nesting, foraging and hatching their first brood, but the garden is alive with emerging solitary bees too.

One of the most exciting finds in my garden this spring was the Ashy Mining bee (Andrena cineraria). She was excavating an area beneath a dandelion plant growing in the gravel, presumably searching for a nest site. The Ashy Mining bee is just one of the 65 or so Andrena species in the UK. These are the ground nesting bees that excavate their nests in close mown areas of the lawn, bare soil and sunny banks.

The Ashy Mining bee, is also known as the Grey Mining Bee, or my favourite name for it, the Panda Bee. What better way to get the kids interested in bees than to send them off in search for the Panda Bee? It’s not a rare bee, though it is more common in southern counties and like most solitary bees it doesn’t sting and it’s out and about in our gardens now between March and June.

Unlike most andrena bees, this one is pretty distinctive due to its colouring. A shiny black abdomen and two bands of fluffy pale grey hair, which give it its distinctive panda-like looks.

Though these are solitary bees they can and do nest in aggregation where the conditions are right, so you may find several nests together. One of the clues that you have these bees nesting near you are little volcano mounds of soil around a hole. These are the piles of excavated soil that the female has dug out to make her nest. She will also close the nest hole in bad weather and sometimes at night.

Ashy mining bees feed on the spring flowers that are blossoming in your garden right now. The apple blossom, the hawthorn and other fruit trees.

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