Solitary Bees -
by Ted Benton -
A Book Review
I should firstly say that I have Ted Benton’s excellent book, 'Bumblebees'. At the time I purchased
this detailed hardback (of about 600 pages), it was officially out of print, and very difficult to get hold of, and so
the copy I bought was second hand.
I was thus delighted to see that Ted Benton has written a
book about solitary bees. As soon as I
read the introduction, I knew it would be an informative factual guide, yet
written in Benton’s warm accessible style - despite his obvious authority in his subject.
“Rather later in the year, tidy-minded gardeners might be
disappointed to see neatly cut round or ovoid holes in the leaves of their
prize roses. This is the work of the
appropriately named leaf-cutter bees (Megachile
species). However, this disappointment
is a very small price to pay for the pleasure of sharing one’s garden with
these fascinating insects. It is a rare
treat to watch the female cutting out the shape she needs, and flying off with
it to line a brood cell. Soon she will
return to the flower-bed to collect pollen among rows of stiff hair on the
underside of her abdomen.” - from the Introduction.
What the book contains
- Within the introduction, Benton helps us accurately answer the question “What is a bee?”. There follows some helpful tips, for example, to enable the
reader to discern the difference between a fly and a bee and a wasp and a bee,
purely from observation. For the more serious
ecologist/entomologist/biologist, Ted supports the information with the requisite anatomical detail and terminology, and labelled diagrams.
- Throughout the book, extra notes and diagrams are supplied
within the margin, so as to aid understanding and illustration, whilst not
detracting from the main body of the copy, specifically, he provides:
- Definitions and explanations of technical
points – for example:
a species that gains its nutrition at some stage in its life-cycle by feeding
on the food-stores of another".
"Pollinium (plural pollinia)
an adhesive mass of pollen grains suspended from the column of an orchid
- Additional photographs and diagrams.
- Diversity and Recognition
- With explanation outlining how to identify
first the classification and genus, by examining behaviours and habitats,
specific characteristics (such as features seen on legs, facial markings etc),
a section of colour photographs.
- Bee Lives
A great chapter, highlighting the behaviours, habitats and lifecycles
of different solitary bees, again with photographs. I love some of the descriptions of specific
behaviours, and particularly enjoy reading confirmation of my own observations,
for example, the territorial behaviours of male wool carder bees.
Also, there is plenty of information to
provide clarity to observations. For
example, I have observed (and filmed) Osmia bicornis engaging in mating behaviour,
although I have now learned that some of the behaviour observed may not have
been mating at all – indeed, a male may mount a female for as long as 10
minutes and engage in a number of behaviours (such as stroking her antennae
with his own, placing his front legs over her eyes). However, this does not mean the female has
accepted him – she may yet shake him off!
Only if the female accepts him, will the male then be allowed to mate
with her (again, mating will last several minutes). After mating, an ‘antiaphrodisiac pheromone’
is applied, to make the female less attractive to other potential mates!
A chapter, with photographs, outlining parasites of solitary bees, their
behaviours and mode of attack.
- Bees and flowers
Exploring the interaction between different flower shapes
and foraging preferences and methods of solitary bee species (including methods of
collecting and carrying pollen).
indeed interesting (although perhaps not surprising) that some of the
behaviours exhibited by solitary bee species, are similar to those witnessed in
social bee species. For example, in social species,
workers may leave chemical signals on flowers they have visited.
It seems solitary bees, such as the Macropis europaea, engage in similar
behaviours – and in particular, this behaviour may be linked to the mating behaviours of that
particular bee species
- Finally, there are chapters about the conservation of
solitary bees, (providing important information about challenges, habitat
requirements etc), keys to the genera of bees (with glossary), and finally of
course, references and further reading.
This is a nice addition to my library. Benton’s book is
described as a ‘Naturalists Handbook – Ecology and Identification’. As
such, it will be of great assistance and interest to those studying ecology and
natural history, as well as those with a passionate amateur interest in
observing and learning more about these wonderful - and often overlooked
pollinators. Solitary Bees (Naturalists Handbooks) is available from Amazon UK
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