A recent chance discovery at Yoxter ranges by Somerset Wildlife Trust’s Senior Ecologist has confirmed the presence of the tormentil mining bee in the county. Last recorded in 1997 at Shapwick, the Trust now needs the help of its supporters in looking for this priority species in order to understand its distribution across Somerset’s reserves.
The tormentil mining bee
The tormentil mining bee, Andrena tarsata, gets its name because it uses the pollen of tormentil flowers to feed its young. It is a type of solitary bee. This means that unlike bumblebees and honeybees, which are social and live in colonies, solitary bees have no queen and do not share a nest. Despite their name, solitary bees can nest in aggregations but they work independently.
The distribution of the tormentil mining bee has declined dramatically post-1970, and may be at risk. It is a UK BAP (Section 41) species, and was last recorded in Somerset in 1997. Prior to that, it is known only from a handful of records dating back to the 1920s and the early 1900s (Bees Wasps and Ants Recording Society database). It is thought to have declined largely due to habitat loss and loss of habitat condition.
A new sighting for Somerset!
Kiff Hancock, Senior Ecologist at the Somerset Wildlife Trust, photographed a bee at Yoxter ranges, near Priddy (Mendips). This was later confirmed as being the tormentil mining bee by Steven Falk of Buglife. The site is full of tormentil flowers, but we don’t yet know the size of the bee population. Please note that Yoxter is a permit-only nature reserve so isn’t open to members of the public without prior permission from the Trust.
Can you help?
If you’re out on the Somerset Wildlife Trust reserves, why not have a look for our new bee? It’s possible that it could be distributed all over Somerset, but there have been few people out looking for it. It flies between mid-June and late August, and needs tormentil flowers for food and small patches of bare ground to nest in. Black Rock and Ubley Warren in the Cheddar area appear to have much suitable habitat, but it hasn’t been recorded here before. Could you help look for it?
How to recognise the tormentil mining bee (and tormentil)
Tormentil is a low-growing plant with yellow four-petalled flowers. Females collect pollen from tormentil flowers so the flowers are a good place to look. The bee is very small, around half the size of a tormentil flower, and has yellow back legs. Separating this species from similar bees can be very difficult, and involves looking at a combination of different characteristics. So it’s a good idea to take lots of photos from a variety of different angles if you can. Send your photos to Cathy Horsley, Somerset Environmental Records Centre, at SercRecords@somerc.com, and contact Cathy for more information. You can also submit a wildlife sighting on the SERC website.
An even rarer bee
Just as in the bird world, bees have cuckoos taking advantage of their nests. In the case of the tormentil mining bee, its cuckoo is a bee called Nomada roberjeotiana. This is a rare species (Red Data Book 3). It has never been recorded in Somerset. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t here though! A good place to look for the cuckoo is at the nesting site of the tormentil mining bee, which are burrows (seen as small entrance holes) in bare ground, in sheltered spots. This is because the cuckoos loiter at the nest entrances waiting for an opportunity to dart in and lay an egg in a burrow prepared by the tormentil bee.
Follow these links for more information:
Steven Falk's Flickr site: tormentil mining bee; Steven Falk's flickr site: Nomada roberjeotiana
BWARS species information sheet: Andrena tarsata
Friends of the Earth Iconic Bees Report
Buglife’s South West Bees Report
Photograph © Steven Falk