The great banded furrow bee, Halictus scabiosae, is a fairly large species within the Halictus genera of bees of the bee family Halictidae. Females can measure just over 1 cm in length, males are a similar size.
This beautiful bee has distinctive abdominal bands. The antennae of males are quite long.
All bees in the Halictus genera are categorized as short-tongued.
This species is found in Europe and in the Channel Islands (including Jersey, Guernsey, Sark and Herm) but not in Britain. It is especially visible between the months of July to September, although females may be seen as early as April.
It is widespread in a range of habitats, from gardens to flowery brownfield sites as well as coastal habitats depending on available floral resources.
The name of this bee may give the impression that is has a narrow foraging range with a preference for scabiouses.
However, the species is polylectic (i.e. it will visit a wide range of unrelated plants).
You may also catch sight of them on thistles, Bristly Oxtongue, Cat's Ear, Rock Rose and heathers.
An Italian study recorded visits to 27 flowering plants1 as follows:
Achillea millefolium, Buphthalmum salicifolium, Centaurea jacea, Centaurea nigrescens, Centaurea scabiosa, Cichorium intybus, Cirsium arvense, Cynara cardunculus, Crepis foetida, Crepis taraxicifolia, Erigeron annuus, Helianthus annuus, Helianthus tuberosus, Lapsana communis, Picris hieracioides, Senecio inaequidens, Taraxacum officinale, Tragopogon pratensis.
Knautia drimeia, Knautia illyrica, Scabiosa triandra.
Hyssopus officinalis, Mentha longifolia.
These bees nest in aggregations in south-facing, sloping sites such and also in sandy areas.
According to Falk in Field Guide to Bees Of Great Britain And Ireland, in some populations, an over-wintered female may act as queens with smaller non-productive daughters carrying out the duties of workers (foraging) whilst the egg-layer remain in the nest. However, this is not always the case. In other communal nests there may be more than one reproductive female.
Indeed one study by Ulrich et al2 confirmed that females have multiple reproductive strategies, resulting in a large diversity in the social structure of nests. The study combined field observations and genetic data.
Other key findings of the study were:
1. Laura Fortunato, Pietro Zandigiacomo, Fenologia e preferenze florali di Halictus scabiosae (Rossi) in Friuli Venezia Giulia, Bollettino Soc. Naturalisti “Silvia Zenari”, Pordenone 36/2012 pp. 147-156 ISSN 1720-0245
2. Ulrich Y, Perrin N, Chapuisat M. Flexible social organization and high incidence of drifting in the sweat bee, Halictus scabiosae. Mol Ecol. 2009 Apr;18(8):1791-800. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-294X.2009.04154.x. Epub 2009 Mar 19. PMID: 19302463.
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