Updated: 25th February 2021
The Ashy Mining Bee - Andrena cineraria, is a harmless and beautiful ground nesting bee, and its distinct black and whitish hair make it easy to identify.
Above is a female, having two well-defined pale bands on the thorax and a pale tuft of hair on the front of the head. Abdomens in the females are blackish-blue and quite glossy.
Below is a male.
Males are slimmer than females,
and have a few greyish white hairs on the abdomen.
Ashy Mining bees may be seen in a wide variety of habitats, from gardens to brownfield sites, coastal grassland or open woodland.
They seem to like south-facing slopes.
Indeed the female in the image at the top of the page was photographed on an allotment. The allotment was in a cutting on sloping land, with sloping boundaries.
In the immediate area were wild hedgerows, wildflowers (including dandelions, of course), and fruit trees (it being an allotment). There were also large numbers of buttercups and umbellifers (notably giant hogweed! The allotment had a very 'weedy' area).
The male, on the other hand, was photographed in a grassy area on a hill, surround by woodland and English bluebells and hawthorn nearby - see below.
I submitted my photographs to a scheme recording sightings of Andrena cineraria. One of the questions asked was whether the ground was sloping and whether shade was available. On both occasions when I have observed this species, sloping ground and available shade was a feature of the immediate landscape, although I do not know if these features are always selected by this particular bee.
These mining bees often nest in aggregations – or communal groups.
Females excavate burrows in the ground of about 10 – 20cm in depth, with two or three cells per burrow. According to BWARS, this species has the interesting habit of closing the entrances to their burrows when disturbed or during wet weather, but keep them open otherwise, including between foraging trips.
Larvae develop and mature in the cells, and eventually overwinter underground as adults in the natal cells.
I was very grateful for this photograph below, sent to me
by Liz Fenn in spring 2014.
In the south of England and in Wales (less common in Scotland), some observations in Ireland, but its range extends across central Europe and up to Scandinavia.
They are usually univoltine (meaning they have one brood period). Females are active mating, then nesting from April to June – with males flying out from March to April, and mating with females around April. It is not clear whether later recordings suggest a second brood period, or delayed emergence of bees.
Andrena cineraria, are polylectic, meaning they will forage from a range of unrelated and diverse plant species. They may be seen along verges and hedgerows foraging from buttercups (Ranunculus spp.), dandelion (Taraxacum officinale), daisies (Bellis perennis) mustards (Brassica spp.), gorse (Ulex Europaea), brambles (Rubus spp.), blackthorn (Prunus spinosa, and hogweed (Heracleum sphondylium).
You can encourage them into your garden with fruit trees (especially cherry, plum and pears), willow (Salix spp.) , and old fashioned and wild roses (Rosa spp.).
The nomad bee Nomada goodeniana and Nomada lathburiana are cleptoparasites known to target the ashy mining bee.
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