BEE MISCELLANY – (from South Notts Local Group Newsletter)

There are some 20,000 separate species of bees worldwide, all of which provide a greater or lesser pollination service on which we depend for food. In the UK, there are around 270 species, which may come as a surprise to some, for whom Honey and Bumblebees comprise ‘our’ bee population: in fact, there is one species of Honey Bee, 24 species of bumblebees and around 250 species of solitary bees, many of which, in spite of their name, live in colonies. There are mason bees, mud bees, plasterer bees, leafcutter bees, mining bees, scissor bees and more, including the wonderfully-named Pantaloon Bee.

Some bee species are more abundant and widespread than others, with Honey Bees and the more common bumblebees most numerous; the Shrill Carder bee and Giant Yellow bumblebee the rarest. Bees exhibit the most extraordinary behaviours, perhaps none more so than the Red-tailed Mason Bee Osmia bicolor, the female of which uses empty snail shells for nesting. Having found a suitable shell she will turn it to a position that prevents rain getting in (quite something, given their relative sizes) and lay up to five eggs in it, each in a separate brood chamber partitioned with chewed grass and soil, each chamber stocked with pollen and nectar. She then seals the shell nest with thisnpaste, and camouflages the nest, carrying in long pieces of grass and twig and pieces of dead leaf. She will repeat this five or six times. The eggs hatch and pupate in the shell, emerging in the following spring. You can find out more about this incredible insect, and watch a video of its amazing behaviour here at

Bumblebees were given the generic name Bombus in 1802, based on the Latin word for buzzing or humming. The name ‘bumblebee’ is itself a compound of ‘bumble’ and ‘bee’, where ‘bumble’means to hum or buzz. The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) tells us the first use of ‘bumblebee’ was recorded in 1530, but that it was predated by the word ’humblebee’, which was first recorded in 1450, and which clearly remained in common use for centuries; even Charles Darwin in On the origin of species (1859), like many of his scientific contemporaries, called them ‘humblebees’. Writing in the Guardian in 2010, Richard Jones suggested that “Darwin would have called them humblebees because, as they fly, they hum.”

Writing on the Bumblebee Conservation Trust website, Katy Malone says: “So, when did we even start calling them bumblebees? It’s probably much more recent than you think. Up until around 1910 they were known as humblebees. By the 1950s we called them bumblebees, possibly thanks to a story by Beatrix Potter who wrote a story which included Babbity Bumble who caused trouble by making mossy nests in the back garden of Mrs Tittlemouse. Naughty Bumble!”

Incidentally, back in the 18th century a bumblebee was known as a ‘dumbledor’, thought to be the inspiration for J K Rowling’s Professor Dumbledore. (“dumble” probably imitating the sound of these insects, while “dor” meant “beetle”. Webster Dictionary 1913).

Bumblebees are much-researched insects, with the latest revelation being that they “can teach others to master complex tasks, and display a level of social learning traditionally thought exclusive to humans”.

An article on the BBC News website here describes the latest research from Queen Mary University London which saw Buff-tailed bumblebees Bombus terrestris learn to solve problems and pass their knowledge onto others. The article states ”It is the first time scientists have seen this behaviour in insects” and that “Researchers say this reveals evidence of a kind of bee ‘culture’”.

Queen Mary University London clearly has an affinity with bumblebees. In 2017, BBC News reported that “a species of bumblebee is proving that, despite having a brain the size of a poppy seed, they can also play football…” A link to the article is available here.


There are plenty of other insects that can quite easily be mistaken for bees: hoverflies, wasps, sawflies, and more. One particular example, described by the Natural History Museum as “a tiny, fluffy, flying narwhale” can be found flying now: the Bee-Fly. Although it resembles a bee, it is in fact a fly (it has only one pair of wings, unlike bees which have two). What it does have though, and what makes it look so distinctive, is a long lance-like appendage carried out permanently in front. To some this resembles a sting, but it is actually a proboscis which it uses to probe deeply into flowers for nectar, flowers that many other bees cannot reach.

Like the Mason Bee described earlier, a female Bee-Fly has its own idiosyncratic approach to egg-laying. She moves her abdomen to coat her eggs in sand and gravel before flying over a solitary bee’s nest where she hovers and flicks out the eggs, hoping they will land and hatch near or, ideally, in the nest. On hatching, Bee-Fly larvae parasitise the bee’s nest, eating both bee grubs and the pollen left for them; as part of this process, they go through a second metamorphosis, which is very rare in insects.

You can find out more about these fascinating creatures here .

Chris Overton

Grizzled Skipper Project 2023/2024 Work Party Programme

Sunday 19th November – Granby Disused Railway – hay raking/ maintenance of egg laying sites.

Tuesday 28th November – Saxondale Disused Railway Spur – hay raking/ scrub clearance.

Sunday 10th December – Grange Farm, Normanton on Soar – scrub clearance/ bare earth creation.


Sunday 14th January – GCRN, Lime Sidings to Barnstone Tunnel – maintenance of egg laying sites/ scrub clearance.

Tuesday 23rd January – Flawborough Triangle – scrub regrowth clearance & treatment/ bare earth creation.

Sunday 4th February – Newstead & Annesley Country Park – scrub clearance.

Tuesday 20th February – GCRN, Rushcliffe Halt & Cutting – maintenance of egg laying sites/ scrub clearance.

Sunday 3rd March – Flawborough Footpath – scrub clearance and scallop creation/ bare earth creation.

Tuesday 12th March – Grange Farm, Normanton on Soar – scrub clearance/ bare earth creation.

If you want more details contact Notts Biodiversity Action Group Officer

Wilwell Walk Rescheduled

NOTE this walk is recscheduled to Sat 12th Aug – Wilwell Farm Cutting in Late Summer – A stroll round the reserve to look at the sites natural history with Gordon the Warden. Meet 10 am at the Wilwell car park on the left, just before the ring road bridge on the B680 between Ruddington and Wilford (look out for reserve sign). Post Code for approx location NG2 7UT, Just Three Words = home, news, fuzzy Need more info contact

Moths – The underestimated pollinators

A new study published in Ecology Letters (available here) suggests that moths should be as highly valued as bees because they play a larger role in pollinating plants than was originally thought.

The research involved collecting pollinating insects on sunny summer days and during calm, warm nights at eight allotments in the Leeds area. The researchers recorded which species were caught and sequenced the DNA of the pollen that was stuck to them to find out which types of plants they had visited during their foraging.

The scientists caught 67 species of moth, compared with 20 species of bee. According to the researchers, over half of the moths analysed carried pollen, significantly more than some prior studies had indicated. They were visiting several species of plants not previously known to be pollinated by them, including redcurrants and strawberries; eight percent of the plant species analysed in the study were pollinated only by moths.

Moths accounted for up to one-third of the plant-pollinator stops, and in late summer visited as many plants as bees, indicating that moths provide an essential but previously unknown role in urban pollen-transport networks.

One observation from the research is particularly troubling: “Given that macro-moth abundance has declined by ca. 33% in the last 50 years in the United Kingdom (Butterfly Conservation 2021) our results suggest that these declines may represent a significant and previously unacknowledged threat to pollination services for both wild and crop plants.”

However, the results suggested that gardeners can help support moth populations by growing plants such as buddleia. “Pollen from the plant was the most common found on the moths’ bodies, probably in part because the bushes give them a place to hide during the day” said the researchers.

Spreading Populations

On the theme of animals ‘new’ to our area, we have recently reported on our FaceBook page sightings in Rushcliffe of Marbled White butterflies at Wilwell and East Leake, a species very seldom seen before in Rushcliffe. The NBN Atlas shows one previous record at Bingham in 2015, (although I’m fairly sure there was at least one sighting on the Bingham Linear Path last year). According to Butterfly Conservation, it is widespread in southern counties from late June through to early September, with outposts found running up through the East Midlands into Yorkshire.

Marbled White pair mating

We also shared on FaceBook a sighting at Rushcliffe Country Park of Small Red-eyed Damselfies, not previously recorded there. According to Paul Simons in The Times on 24 June “The species came from Hungary before landing at the Bluewater Shopping Centre in Kent in 1999. Since then it has moved northwards and is now found in Newcastle.”  The article also states that “Britain is experiencing a boom in dragonflies and damselflies flying over from Europe or native to the UK. Among the migrants were unusual numbers of Vagrant Emperor” and “another rare species that appeared this year was the Scarce Chaser”

A native species we also reported seen in June at Cotgrave Country Park and Ruddington was the Hairy Dragonfly. The NBN Atlas shows only three records in Rushcliffe since 2019.

Hairy Dragonfly (f)

Beewolf found in Rushcliffe

I recently posted an article on Philanthus Triangulum The Beewolf (click here), in which I speculated that based on sightings elsewhere, it was probably only a matter of time before this fascinating insect would be found in Rushcliffe.

Female Beewolf at Skylarks, 3 Sept 2022

So, it is with a mixture of surprise and embarrassment I report that, a few days after posting the article, whilst cataloguing images I had taken at Skylarks in September last year, I found two images of a female Beewolf feeding on ivy.

So, rather more quickly than I had imagined, the Beewolf is here!

Look out for Wolves!

Over the last year we have explored species ‘new’ to Rushcliffe that may have arrived as a consequence of range expansion: Silver-washed Fritillary, Ivy Bee and Purple Emperor. Tim Sexton’s recent talk, part of our Winter Wildlife Talks Programme, raised the possibility of adding to that list a small, but truly fascinating insect with a remarkable lifestyle.

To find out more, read our article here

Moles, fortresses and Jacobites

Moles are very rarely seen as they spend most of their lives underground. They are stocky animals, with a wedge-shaped body and short tail. They use their spade-like paws to dig tunnels and hunt for their favourite meal of earthworms. They also like to eat underground grubs that would usually feed off crops, so moles can help to control unwanted visitors.

By digging up the earth, moles help make the soil healthier by aerating it. This allows more types of plants to grow, which in turn feed more insects. Not only this, their tunnels improve soil drainage, which helps stop flooding and huge puddles forming on the ground. Moles truly are the unsung heroes of the animal world!

A mole can dig up to 20 metres of tunnel in a day using its spade-like forepaws to effectively breaststroke its way through the soil. Every now and again, loose soil is pushed up to the surface, resulting in what we see as a mole hill. The mole’s velvety coat helps it to move easily through the soil, and its mouth and nose are protected from debris by their down-facing position.

Tarmacking and increasing numbers of hard surfaced gardens mean that moles are being pushed out of their natural habitats. Why not help green up the grey by making your garden a home for wildlife?

Whilst you may think that moles will hibernate through winter, this isn’t the case. Their main tunnels and nesting burrows are far enough under the frosty surface that they are able to still be active during the cold winter months.

The vast majority of molehills are relatively small and without internal structure. On occasion, though, moles construct large and structured mounds containing upwards of 750 kg of soil. Fortresses are commonly found in areas with a high water table which are liable to flooding. When the waters rise the mole can retreat from the waterlogged tunnels and take refuge within the fortress. There it can remain, dry in its nest and sustained by the stores of worms, until the waters recede. Fortresses also feature in shallow soils lying on a hard substrate.

Moles prefer to make their nests deep in the soil where temperatures are relatively stable and for most of the year rather higher than at the surface. Moles living in thin soils cannot dig deep nests and a fortress may offer a degree of insulation to the mole asleep in its nest. Fortresses are built with the soil excavated from tunnels that would have been dug anyway but there is a considerable extra cost in moving this large quantity of soil to one central point. (from The Natural History of Moles, Martyn Gorman and David Stone).

In early March 1702 King William III of Orange died after he was thrown from his horse when it stumbled on a molehill while he was riding near Hampton Court. The king suffered a broken collar bone in the fall and died a few weeks later after bronchitis set in. That deadly mole became revered amongst Jacobites and, on March 8th each year on the anniversary of the King’s death, a toast ‘to the wee gentleman in the velvet jacket’ became common place amongst Jacobite supporters, a nod to their underground assassin.

Birdlife IS beneficial

The Times, on 27th October, reported that

 ‘Listening to birdsong for a few minutes each day may hold the key to feeling happy.

Scientists found that watching birds and enjoying their chorus lifts the spirits for up to eight hours and can help to ease depression. They said birdlife has a major role to play in helping people with mental health conditions, highlighting the importance of efforts to maintain biodiversity.

The study by King’s College London involved 1,292 people, who were asked three times a day whether they could see or hear birds and about their mental wellbeing. The team found that among those with mental health conditions, hearing or seeing birdlife was associated with improvements in mood and happiness. Healthy people also experienced a similar effect, with improvements lasting for up to eight hours’

So, although there may be little birdsong to hear at the moment,  there should still be plenty of birds to see, so why not see them at local wildlife sites around Rushcliffe? Click here for some useful links to nature reserves in Rushcliffe, both NWT and Friends of sites, and some other sites outside of Rushcliffe.