A rare bee, last recorded in Wales in 1967, has been discovered in the Rhondda valleys. The Thick-margined Mini-mining Bee (Andrena falsifica) is a rare and poorly understood solitary bee species with scattered records as far north as Cumbria. It has only been recorded in Wales on three occasions: at Tregarth, Gwynedd, in 1967 (recorded by J. Morgan) and at St. Donats, Vale of Glamorgan, in 1929 (recorder unknown) and 1932 (recorded by H. M. Hallett). In South Wales, it hasn’t been recorded for around 84 years!
But, what are solitary bees?
In Britain, we have around 270 different species of bee. The social bees (bumblebees and the honeybee) account for around one-tenth of that figure, the remainder of which are solitary. Unlike bumblebees and the honeybee, solitary bees do not live in colonies, produce honey or have a queen. Solitary bees live largely independent lives, building and provisioning their own nests without the help of a worker caste. These charismatic and highly diverse bees are readily overlooked, despite the valuable pollination service they provide. Solitary bees are fantastic pollinators, and it is said that a single red mason bee (Osmia bicornis) is between 120 and 200 times more efficient at pollination than a honeybee.
Solitary bees are highly diverse, and so are their nesting habits. The majority of British species nest in the ground, excavating their own nests. The appropriately named Mining bees (in the genus Andrena) are ground nesting species. After choosing a suitable piece of ground, the female mining bee begins excavating a nest by digging. After creating the nest, she provisions the nest with nectar and pollen, everything her developing larvae needs to grow and develop. Solitary bees do not tend to the young as they grow, as bumblebees and honeybees do.
In Britain there are around 65 species of bee in the genus Andrena, making the mining bees the largest of our bee groups. Among these mining are the mini-miners (subgenus Micrandrena), which are among the smallest of our bees (with many often measuring just 5 to 7 mm in length). The rare mini-mining bee Andrena falsifica was discovered by Liam Olds (founder of the Colliery Spoil Biodiversity Initiative) as part of his ongoing research highlighting the important wildlife value of south Wales’ coal tips. Relatively little is known about this bee, although many records are from heaths and moors. It is thought to forage on a wide variety of flowers including a cinquefoil, dandelion, Daisy, Wild Strawberry, Germander Speedwell and umbellifers. The bee was found at three different Rhondda coal tips – Tylorstown Tip (‘Old Smokey’), Gelli Coal Tips and the reclaimed tips of Clydach Vale Country Park.
Commenting on the find, Liam said “The discovery of this rare bee is very exciting and highlights the importance of our coal tips. Over decades, our tips have been colonised by a wide variety of plants and animals, and many now support habitats and species of considerable local and national importance. This discovery is just one of many other rare and scarce invertebrates, lichens, plants and fungi that have been found on coal tips. Coal tips are not only important wildlife habitats, but are part of our industrial heritage and cultural identity and they need conserving. The Colliery Spoil Biodiversity Initiative will continue to raise awareness of the importance of coal tips for wildlife and people in an attempt to aid their conservation”.
If you would like any further information on solitary bees, check out Ryan Clark’s Guide to Solitary Bees in Britain. For further information on Andrena falsifica, visit Steven Falk’s Flickr page and the BWARS website.