have wonderful names – like the hairy-footed flower bee (Anthophora plumipes), for instance.
During my talks, I sometimes play a little game where I ask questions, and if a member of the audience answers the question correctly, they get a packet of wildflower seeds as a prize. One of my questions is: Which of these names does NOT belong to a real species of bee?:
Lots of people choose the first one, presumably thinking that hairy-footed flower bee, is too fanciful a name (the correct answer is ‘the black-kneed bee – a name I invented).
Anthophora plumipes is a solitary species, although where favourable nesting conditions exist, they may be found in communal groups.
A similar species in Britain is Anthophora retusa, although it is much rarer.
The video below shows a female foraging on pulmonaria, a favourite plant of this species, and very useful in the bee-friendly garden, because being an early spring flowering plant, it provides an early source of food for bees.
Yes, but then bees are covered in hair. The male of this species does, however, on close examination, have particularly hairy feet and legs – which have a feathery appearance. I like to think of this bee as being a bit like 'the hobbit' of the bee world!
Anthophora plumipes may be seen from February or March when females emerge from hibernation. Females are black and are sometimes mistaken for bumble bees, although I tend to think they can be mistaken for black hoverflies.
The males emerge about 2 weeks later.
Being quite different to females in appearance, having a ginger fur instead of black, they could on first glance be confused with a bumble bee species - especially carder bumble bees such as (Bombus pascuorum, brown-banded carder (Bombus humilis), or even the bee fly. It doesn't help that they may even be seen foraging on the same flowers.
Below is an image of a hairy-footed flower bee (Anthophora
The image below shows a bee fly (Bombylius major), which has a darting flight. However, it has a longer, thinner out-stretched tongue, beady eyes that face forward, and only one pair of wings. This species also has dark wing markings, although Bombylius minor is even more similar in appearance, and lacks the dark wing markings.
Below is a carder bumble bee, also feeding on pulmonaria.
The bees like to nest in soft mortar or sometimes in the ground.
You may see both males and females approaching flowers with their notably pointed tongues sticking out. The tongue looks sharp, pointed and sturdy, in contrast to that of the gingery bee fly, which has a much longer tongue.
I didn’t find it easy to capture these bees on camera, for two reasons. Firstly, the angle of the sun made it difficult for me to know whether the bee was in the frame or not. Secondly, note the flight. This species has a swift, darting flight, with frequent hovering.
Thirdly, I only have a basic little camera!
Other plants enjoyed by the species include dead nettle, ajuga, comfrey and other borage species.
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