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Grey Mining Bee Andrena cineraria Lill Dunne croppedMany people have an affection for bumblebees, but most are totally unaware of the little solitary bees out there, going about their business in our gardens, parks and farms. If you’ve not noticed them before, they are a treasure trove waiting for you to discover! Solitary bees are amazingly good pollinators, have a unique and intriguing lifestyle, and are probably living in your garden without you realising it.In Ireland, we have 77 different solitary bee species. If you add our 21 bumblebees, this brings the total number of wild bees to 98 individual species.

Solitary bees don’t make honey; and don’t form large colonies with a queen, like bumblebees or honeybees. They take one whole year to pass through a complete life cycle and may only survive as adults for a few months. This isn’t long enough for them to raise their offspring to adulthood, so the young bees have to fend for themselves, hence the term ‘solitary bee’. Male and female adults normally come out of hibernation in spring and the females each make a nest. Within the nest she constructs a small number of little cells, and in each she’ll lay an egg and leave a ball of food that she’s made by mixing pollen and nectar. Once she’s happy that the task is complete, she’ll close the entire nest and all the females and the males will die, their job complete. The larvae survive the winter, eat the food supply that’s been left for them, each dining and sleeping in its own single chamber, and emerge the following spring as adults. Then they try to find a mate and the cycle begins again. 

Read the full article at pollinators.ie or download the article that was first published in the Spring issue of Irish Wildlife, the magazine of the Irish Wildlife Trust