Most people don't realise they even exist, but Solitary Bees make up most of the Bee species in Ireland.
In fact 95% of the world's 20,000 species of bee are solitary rather than social bees
In Ireland numbering 77 different species, most of these solitary Bees (as pictured below), as their name implies, live a solitary existence nesting in burrows in soil and dry crevices in walls and hollowed out plant stems.
Climate change is expected to bring new new solitary species to Ireland. The violet carpenter bee (Xylocopa viloacea) arrived in Waterford in 2007 ( Biodiversity Ireland ), although it hasn’t been seen since. Most solitary species are small and relatively inconspicuous, but Xylocopa viloacea ( Picture below courtesy of biodiversity Ireland ) looks like a bluebottle on steroids!
Like our honeybee, Solitary Bees are a vital link in the
pollination chain. They are presently in serious decline
with regard to numbers so they need all the help they
can get. As is the case with all our Bees, the provision
of suitable flowering forage plants, and accessibility to
suitable areas for nesting is of vital importance.
Solitary bees live for a year and in the adult phase a
short existence of about 2 weeks.
They exist in both the male and female form. The female laying a single egg in a burrow or hollowed out twig or similar plant stem, fashioned into a nest.
They store with this egg a supply of Honey and Pollen for food for the emerging larvae. They then leave this egg and soon to emerge young Bee to its own devices.
Hence the name " Solitary Bee ".
The mother then dies as soon as the weather turns cold after making a number of such nests and the young Bees overwinter on their own in their individual nests. As the Spring arrives the new bee emerges and the cycle begins once again.
As above most are Solitary, but their are a few who will group their individual nests together. To help these Bees, as mentioned above, you could provide a suitable bank of loose earth south facing for the Mining Solitary Bees and for the the other Solitary Bees a bank of hollowed out bamboo canes tightly packed together off the ground by 1 to 2 metres and again sheltered and south east facing.
As is the case with all Bees they are not aggressive insects, as the photo to the right demonstrates, where I coaxed 2 No. onto my hand to get a clear photo of. they are utterly fascinating little critters !