Mining bees (the correct scientific name for this genus being ‘Andrena’) are one of the largest groups of solitary bees. It is believed to consist of over 1,300 known species of bees across the world. They are not to be confused with ‘Digger Bees’, although most species of both types of bees make their nests underground. They actually belong to different families of bees: Andrena belonging to the family ‘Andrenidae' whilst digger bees (actually the genus 'Anthophorini') are part of the ‘Apidae' family, along with bumblebees and honey bees.
One of the most common Andrena species is the tawny mining bee – Andrena fulva, pictured here. Adults are an endearing little creature, the females being reddish orange in colour, with black undersides, whilst males are duller in colour, and smaller than females.
In general, they seem to prefer to build nests in
sandy soil. Evidence of them may be seen if you come across little
mounds of earth in lawns, borders, or even in pots, resembling worm
casts. Nests will often consist of one small, main tunnel, with perhaps 5
or so branches, each containing an egg cell. The tunnel will usually
be about 20cms – 40cms deep, and the entrance is about the size of a 10p
coin. The nests will not cause any damage in soil or in gardens, and
indeed, they should be welcomed. They rarely, if ever sting, and
provide an excellent pollination service. The use of pesticides in lawns
to deal with them is not recommended. Nests are very short lived, do
not damage plants, and many lawn pesticides are actually harmful to
Adults emerge from hibernation in
Spring, having hibernated through the winter. After mating, the female
seeks a place to make a nest. Like the other female solitary bees, she
sets about making egg cells: in each one she lays an egg and provides
both pollen and nectar on which the individual larva can feed. Each
individual egg cell is made, provisioned, then sealed up before the next
cell is made. She will usually lay about 5 eggs.The adults are active
for 6 – 8 weeks of the year, and the new adults that emerge will need to
hibernate over winter again, to re-emerge in Spring. Although solitary,
females do sometimes construct nests close to each other, and may be
re-occupied year after year if undisturbed.
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