An attendee displays a solitary bee that was captured during a tour of Remerschen ponds, organised by the environmental groups Bee Together and natur&ëmwelt on Sunday 14 August. Photo: Bee Together/natur&ëmwelt Remich section
Have you heard of a solitary bee? Did you know that there are about 300 different bee species in Luxembourg?
Do you know that there are flies that look like bees? And how do you tell the two apart? What is a “bee hotel” and how do they function? Do all bees make honey?
These and many other questions were answered (along with fascinating details) on Sunday 14 August when the environmental groups Bee Together and natur&ëmwelt teamed up to organise their fourth educational walk at the Remerschen ponds, near Wintrange.
When most people think of bees, they think of hundreds of insects working away in a hive making honey and serving their queen. For solitary bees, reality is very different. Solitary bees have unique behaviour and living patterns.
The major differences between solitary bees and the typical honey bee is that solitary bees don’t produce honey and instead of living in a group, as their name implies, they live alone.
Annemie Debackere of Bee Together (on right) supplies one attendee with the necessary bee capture equipment (a clear plastic bottle and net). Photo: Bee Together/natur&ëmwelt Remich section
There are several different varieties of solitary bee. Some can be very tiny; hardly bigger than a grain of rice. And each species possesses unique markings. But their common trait (and an easy way to recognise them) is their lifestyle.
Solitary bees do not live in a hive; they choose to make their homes in the ground, in a hollow tree or (as with one particular species) in discarded snail shells among other possible mediums. And even though many solitary bees may choose the same mound of dirt in which to construct their nests, the tunnels are separate and each bee has its own, individual abode.
Solitary bees construct nests containing several chambers, laying one egg per chamber. But the nest must be free of parasites, possess a tunnel free of rough surfaces and of the correct dimensions.
One particular species (leaf cutter bees) cuts leaf sections from rose bushes or Himalayan honeysuckle as lining material for the chambers of their nest. But this is only one example; the variety of materials used is only limited by the number of solitary bee species.
Once the chamber is lined, the bee collects pollen and nectar to store in the chamber so that the larvae will have enough food to sustain them until adulthood (i.e., the following spring) when they will leave the nest. Once the chamber has been adequately prepared and the egg placed there, the larvae begins its life cycle.
It grows within the chamber during which it constructs a cocoon to protect it during the frigid temperatures of winter. Then, in spring, it chews itself out of the cocoon ready to leave the nest. Male bees are located nearest the entrance because they have the strength to unblock the opening in order for the females to follow later on.
This fascinating cycle of life is one that anyone with a yard can observe in person (preferably with flowers in close proximity that bloom during the entire growing season). “Bee hotels” can be easily constructed from a variety of materials. An arrangement of hollow tubes surrounded by a frame is a simple and adequate “home”.
It would be a huge disservice if this article did not point out the necessary role of bees. Millions of plants all over the world would not be able to reproduce without their indispensable contribution. If it weren’t for bees, our environment would be seriously (and irrevocably) changed for the worse.
Their participation (while often taken for granted) is being challenged by human intervention. Although certainly not aimed at endangering this insect, the loss of much of the land to agriculture (for example) has created a situation where bees are now more abundant in cities than the countryside because of the guarantee of the diversity of flowering plants much of the year.
Certainly the beneficial work of organisations, such as Bee Together and natur&ëmwelt, help to bring attention to this seldom understood insect. Having the ability to observe them in their environment, realising how we share the same open spaces and studying the fascinating cycle of their existence is a priceless opportunity that no one should miss.