Nectar Robbers, Takeover Bid at Wild Bee Tree and More.

Honeysuckle with perforated corolla bases.
One of the culprits.

Cheating Bees.

I was getting ready for an early night yesterday. It was still daylight. Indeed, it didn’t really get dark at all last night as we head for the summer solstice in a couple of days. As I was drawing the curtains, I noticed, outside the window, a small white-tailed bumble bee worker, Bombus lucorum, chewing holes in the outside bases of honeysuckle corollas. Rushing outside with my camera, I managed to photograph a larger bumble bee higher up the climbing shrub doing the same thing. On examining several flowers, I noticed that most had the tell-tale holes of robbers bypassing the pollination fee and going for free nectar. Did you know that honey bees sometimes take advantage of this sneaky strategy and get free nectar from plants like comfrey, field beans and bell heather without returning the compliment by pollinating the plant?

Surprises at Wild Bee Tree.

For the past week, we’ve had warm, damp and almost tropical weather. The countryside is lush with rich vegetation and you can smell the heady aroma of elderflower in full bloom everywhere. On a walk to the bee tree I ran into the wee bee apprentice (Connie 8) collecting elderflower heads with her mother Rosy, and sister Evangeline (nearly 5). They were going to make elderflower cordial and I was invited to come over to the garden and sample some later. I helped them pick some flower heads wishing that I had time to make cordial myself.

We talked about the wild bees because the family is helping monitor the nest. They saw much activity the other day and Rosy sent me this video. I was curious to see if the activity was normal foraging or robbing behaviour.

Robbing on 9th June.

Until now, the bee tree has been quiet with little foraging activity and no pollen seen coming in for a long time. At nearly every visit the bees have been defensive and have stung us on 3 occasions. So, on 9th June I was surprised to see the nest entrance boiling with bees. However, I realised that they were fighting as couples of angry bees tumbled to the ground. Some of the bees were much yellower than the residents so I figured that large-scale robbing by another colony was going on. Interestingly, at the bait hive there was lots of activity too with visits from the yellower bees.

On the 14th June, I walked up later in the day around 8pm on a still, overcast, warm evening when daytime temperatures hit 17 degrees Celsius. To my surprise, I heard the low contented sounding hum of bees evaporating nectar, and the front entrance was full of fanning bees. The bait hive was empty though.

Another daytime visit on 17th June reassured me that all is now well. The bees were calm and too busy nectar collecting to bother bombing me as I sat on the wall watching. I’ve concluded that the yellow bees have moved in to the queenless wild nest

Elephant Hawk Moth Update.

The elephant hawk moth chrysalis has failed to emerge due to dying and drying up which is a disappointment.

Apiary Update.

I acquired another swarm. This time a secondary swarm with a virgin queen. I’ve seen heavy loads of pollen going in which reassures me that she has now mated. Both swarms had negligible varroa drops following oxalic acid sublimation which is reassuring.

I’m confident that there is no June gap here because forage is abundant and I’m hearing the colonies evaporating nectar in the still evenings. I’m not seeing bees collecting water at the regular sources either which confirms my thoughts.

16 thoughts on “Nectar Robbers, Takeover Bid at Wild Bee Tree and More.”

  1. On June dearth – there’s an odd thing not going on in the Anagach Woods this year – an almost complete absence of rowan flowers or developing flower heads. Is this duplicated elsewhere, or is it an entirely local thing?

      1. We tend to look out for rowan because Eileen is the Rare Invertebrates of the Cairngorms “champion” for the pine hover fly, which, despite its name, feeds on rowan.

        1. I checked on our rowans, Avery, and I’m seeing lots of green berries so nothing seems amiss here. Good to know of Eileen’s special interests for future consulting on insect finds.

          1. Everything is normal, here too, in the Rhins of Galloway in SW Scotland.; I made a Rowan pollen slide on 12th May and now the bunches of rowan pomes are maturing.

          2. On the subject of Rowan flowering – this may be the solution:

            Kobro, S., Søreide, L., Djønne, E. et al. Masting of rowan Sorbus aucuparia L. and consequences for the apple fruit moth Argyresthia conjugella Zeller. Popul Ecol 45, 25–30 (2003).

            Masting of rowan Sorbus aucuparia L. has been studied in 45 sites in southern Norway for 22 years. We present data on the year-to-year variation in fruit setting of rowan, and show that masting is spatially synchronous in Norway and probably all over Fennoscandia. The apple fruit moth Argyresthia conjugella Zeller is an important seed predator on rowan. We present data on the abundance of apple fruit moth in rowanberries during these years and discuss the consequences of masting and intermasting of rowan for apple fruit moth as a pest of apple. We conclude that growth and climate have little impact on flowering intensity and suggest that masting of rowan is an adaptive defense against seed predation and a new example of predator satiation: intermast years inhibit predators and prepare the rowan for the subsequent mast.

            See – – for details of the moth. I’ve never found it in my moth trap (right on the edge of the woods) but it’s a day-flying micro moth, so it’s probably left to go about it’s business by the time I open the trap.

          3. I wonder what other long lived plants use the same trick. Pity that bees can’t counter brood pests by skipping a year of brood now and then.

  2. Interesting that the robbing was by yellower bees. A few years ago a neighbour started beekeeping with a colony of Buckfast bees at which point robbing of weak colonies became common, since they began to fail that behaviour appeared to cease.
    Your observation also supports people’s scepticism about the endurance of feral colonies.

    1. Thank you for sharing your observations, Tristan. It will be good to have many more people closely watching wild colonies. However, the time factor is key. I am lucky to be able to go up to the tree several times a week and take notes. Lockdown has been given me more time this year for just watching nature.

  3. When, Ann, did you discover this bee tree? Back in 2018? One wonders how long this bee tree was occupied before the colony living in it gradually died out this Spring. Well, now you have solid information about the when this sites was reoccupied, so now you can get good data on how long this site will be continuously occupied going forward. Thank you for monitoring this site so carefully.

    1. I found them in February 2019, Tom. Well, there were still bees living in the tree at the time of the probable swarm arriving recently. I just think that the queen had died.

  4. Bumblebees are making access holes in the Wild Fuchsia (Magellanica) and the honey bees are taking advantage of it too. 🙂

  5. The swarm is very interesting. There are no beekeepers any where near us, and we have had Carniolans for years. All our present colonies have queens marked blue or green and the queens are still there. Three weeks ago, a swarm of carniolan bees, with an unmarked Carniolan queen occupied a bait hive in the garden. I must not speculate about this however tempting it may be.

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