► Watch out! watch out! there’s an Ivy Bee about!

I’ve been known to hack down the ivy that determinedly climbs my garden trees, every year it’s all out war but not any more. I now have an excuse to let it grow.

Colletes Hederae the Ivy Bee on (yes, you’ve guessed it) Ivy Hedera helix

This gorgeous bee is called Colletes hederae or the Ivy Bee and I’m hoping I can entice it into my garden in the next few years.

Having a clean up in it’s nest entrance

It’s a relative newcomer to our shores and was first recorded in 2001 at Langton Matravers (12 miles from Corfe Mullen as the crow (or bee) flys). Since then it has spread over much of Southern England.

As it’s name suggests it forages mainly on Ivy pollen so it isn’t really seen until Ivy comes into flower (usually between mid September and early November).

Feeding on Ivy – look at all that pollen on it’s legs!

Look out for it on the ground as well. It’s a mining bee so you may see it near to it’s nest on soft (sometimes grassy, sometimes not) banks and cliffs.

Or you might be lucky enough to see a weird mating cluster, as the males mob new females emerging from their nests and roll around trying to mate in a large seething ball. I can’t wait to see a load of passionate bees, apparently it’s pretty impressive!

A typical nesting site outside a house in Salisbury, Wilts, photographed on Sunday

As it’s the last of the solitary bee species to emerge each year, it gives you a really good reason to go out in October and stare at ivy covered lamp posts or sandy banks outside peoples houses, just don’t get arrested!

Well at least that’s what I was doing last Saturday with my friend Stuart from BWARS (Bees, Wasps & Ants Recording Society). The staring bit… not the getting arrested bit!

Digging out the nest

We did manage to find a few nests in Corfe Mullen and as we stood deciding where to go next a solitary bee flew in and disappeared down her nest hole!

We also found them at Hamworthy (on the edge of Poole Harbour) flying around Ivy in great numbers (but no nest holes) and a few just on the edge of Wimborne (also foraging on Ivy). They hadn’t been seen at any of these sites before, so it was pretty exciting stuff.

Just look at the colour of those wings!

So how do you recognise it? Well, first it helps if you live in the South of England (they are expected to spread but at the moment haven’t been found any further north than Bristol.

Map showing where the Ivy Bee has been recorded in Dorset
(many thanks to Stuart Roberts at BWARS for the map)

Map showing where the Ivy Bee has been recorded in Europe
(many thanks to Stuart Roberts at BWARS for the map)

Second, look for a bee collecting pollen from Ivy flowers in October (the only other insects we saw on the Ivy were wasps, hoverflys and honeybees). I guess they do look a little like a honeybee or wasp, but once you get a good, close-up look there is no mistaking them.

It’s fairly large. Around the size of a honeybee (or larger) and the banding on the abdomen of fresh specimens is very orangey coloured (however this does fade on older bees). They also carry their pollen all the way down their legs (instead of in pollen sacks) and they do sting… so be careful!

Hairy, stripy and as big as a honeybee!

So, if you do see any I know that Stuart would love to hear from you. You would need to let him have full details of your location, the date seen, who you are and ideally a photograph (of the bee… not you!). See the following link for his contact details and more information – BWARS.

Happy bee hunting!

84 thoughts on “► Watch out! watch out! there’s an Ivy Bee about!

  1. Hi Doug. Well you never know, this year may “bee” the year that they cross over the corridor. We found them in their hundreds where there had previously been none a couple of years ago. Jane

  2. I would love the data on the Lyme Regis bees if at all possible. They are well known from the area, but annual updates on precise localities, flight periods and numbers are always welcome.

  3. Thanks for your comments Paula and Stuart. I will email Paula for you Stuart and ask her if she can get the details of the sighting at Lyme Regis. Every sighting counts! Jane

  4. Dear Jane Adams and Urban Extension,
    I write monthly articles on natural history in the newspaper French News [www.french-news.com], which is aimed at the British expatriates here. Recently the French organisation for the protection of insects (OPIE)[www.inra.fr/opie-insectes/] has begun a campaign to discover the exact distribution of the ivy bee in France. I hope to write an article for French News this week on this same topic. Your photos are superb. Could I have your permission to use one of these? The provenance would be recognised.
    with best wishes for your projects. Brian Cave (www.lefourquet.net/)

  5. Brian
    I am very interested in your article for French News, and I am well aware of the OPIE initiative led by Serge Gadoum. In fact, he has even used my map on the webpage (no permission or accreditation). I am in contact with a significant number of French bee folk in the Observatoire d’Abeilles, and through Apoidea Gallica. I should be very happy to chat with you about Colletes hederae in France
    Cheers, Stuart (spmr@msn.com)

  6. Hi Brian. Thanks for your comment. I am more than happy for you to use any of the photographs in this post. I’m afraid I can’t supply you with high resolution versions at the moment (as I’m away). Stuart (see above) also has some great photographs of Colletes Hederae. He is the person who really got me interested in them… well worth you having a chat with him. Jane

  7. hi well that solved that mystery i thought i had a plague of waps in my garden, excelent information and when i looked closely the wings were truly beautiful or should that be bee-tiful – sorry couldint resist

  8. Hi Ginette. Thanks for your comment and glad you liked the blog. If you are in “Surrey” that could be really interesting, as I’m not sure whether these wasps have been seen in Surrey before (they are mainly south coast at the moment). Do you have any pictures? or could you let me know where and when you saw them? Thanks. Jane

  9. We have plague of bees that hover round our heads while we’re trying to enjoy our garden. They come buzzing right into our ears. Up to now we haven’t been stung, but it’s a bit of a nuisance having to keep waving them away. We haven’t been able to find out what kind they are, or what we can do to keep them away. Any ideas would be appreciated. Don.

    • Hi Don. Do you live in the UK? It would be pretty unusual to have a lot of bees at this time of year in the UK. Could they be hoverflies? if they are, they are totally harmless, but again it would be unusual to have a lot of them. Could you let me know how big they are, what colour and where you live? If you are abroad, I’m afraid I don’t know that much about foreign species.

  10. Have just seen masses of these sweeties on the ivy in my garden. Wondered what was going on and after a quick google found your page.
    I live in East Molesey, Surrey KT8 9JF. 31/08/09
    Will ensure I don’t cut it back until early winter when all the flowers have gone.
    Lot’s of other insects on it, wasps, flys, hornets.

    • Thanks Liz. I don’t suppose there is any chance you could email a photo of them to me? Then I can pass all the details to the recorders of these bees. My email is jane at naturewatched.org It’s the first records I seen of them this year. Thanks. Glad you found my blog! Jane

  11. Records from East Molesey would be seriously interesting. They would be the most northerly in UK and about the most northerly known records in the world 9at the moment). A really detailed hunt in the area for nest sites would be invaluable, as would further records from the suburbs of London. Please Liz… set to!!

  12. Hi Jane, what a beautiful blog! I too found you via a google search–over lunch I felt a sudden concern that perhaps the bees were getting drunk on ivy flowers so typed my query! (Still don’t know) But, the cedar waxwings, wasps and the bees all appreciate it even if some gardeners do not. And anyway, I found your site. Will tune in from time to time from way over in Berkeley, California.

    • What a wonderful thought… I’m now imagining you finding me all the way over in Berkeley, California during your lunch break! Brilliant! Really glad you like the blog. Dip back any time! 🙂

  13. Pingback: Ivy Flowers - Wild About Britain

  14. Our hedera is swarming with asps in the late autumn sunshine, (south-east England). Our gardener said they were attracted to a pair of gardening gloves he left lying on the lawn, having previously used them while cutting back ivy – the scent must be really strong!

  15. Jane just found your super blog while researching the colletes bee. I am painting a series of British Bees for a small exhib and blog about them as I go. Your post has been so interesting and will be delighted to include a link on the blog. When I have finished I will send you link to blog post.. I see you say they sting? BWARS PDF says harmless? Did you have an encounter? 🙂

  16. Found you via Val’s blog – hope they make it further North at some point – we bought an ivy-lover’s dream garden (along with the house)! I love ivy too!
    Best wishes

  17. There are many sites at the Ashley Wood Golf Club at Blandford Forum. The bees have taken up residence in our sand bunkers which means we can have a free drop alongside the sand , on the grass , with no penalty to our score. Great ! I wanted to know if they lay eggs in the sand holes and is there a Queen to each nest site.

      • Hi Ann Just wondered if you had contacted Stuart Roberts at the Bees, Ants and Wasps recording society, to record this sighting? He is mapping all the sightings of this bee in the UK – as it is a newcomer to our shores. His email is spmr (at) msn.com

        I’d also love to come and see them. Would this be possible do you think?

  18. We live in South Devon and run a plant nursery. We have had hundreds of them hatch out and spend their days in one or two of our polytunnels. We are in a walled garden with Ivy around the walls so I guess they like it there.

    • Thanks for leaving a comment Michele. You can see a current map for the whole of the uk at the BWARS link above, and I know that Stuart at BWARS would love to know about your bees (especially as it sounds like you have a nesting site as well) or you can email me at jane@naturewatched.org All we’d need to know is where you are and what you have seen. A photo of any of them would be an added bonus! Jane

      • Since mid september literally thousands of these bees present in a certain road in tisbury, wiltshire, many being run over after emerging and mating. Identification checked with the author of bee and wasp books, David Baldock , of the Surrey Wildlife Trust. Plenty of them still around if anyone needs to come & see them.

  19. Hi Everyone!

    Yes… I would love to have details of all of your findings of this beautiful bee! I have seen Ivy Bees at Ashley Wood GC before (3 years ago), and I am glad to hear they survived the bunker re-shaping exercise that was happening that winter.

    Every single data point is helpful, so all I need is “Who, when and where”, the latter can be supplied by a postcode, address, Grid Reference or Google Earth point. My email address is spmr[at]msn.com and the data will be added to the national dataste, and will appear on a map at http://www.bwars.com

    Cheers, and good hunting

    ps.. did Steve Edwards hand some of his Tisbury bees to David Baldock last Sturday at the AES meeting?

    • Hello Stuart and any other Ivy Bee watchers, firstly yes I did hand the bees to David Baldock at the AES after he had confirmed their identification. Secondly I have just checked them this afternoon and the numbers have dropped (probably due to 2 very wet days over weekend), if anyone wants to go see them they are in Queens Road off The Avenue, Tisbury SP3 6JQ at the end furthest from Tisbury High Street. Highest numbers currently found around bungalows no’s 46-48 Queens Road.

  20. Hi,I wonder if anyone can help? We live in Guernsey, Channel Islands and for the last few weeks, there have been, what we thought were wasps, clamouring at the windows and glass door, just before daybreak every morning. As soon as it gets light they disappear. They are not there at night, always just before daybreak. I phoned our local environment office, but when I mentioned that we had seen some around our ivy – they just said they must be Ivy bees and there was nothing they could do. looking at your fab photos – I really don’t think they are Ivy Bees. Would this be typical behaviour? As you may have guessed we are totally ignorant on the subject! Any ideas?

  21. I was wonering what all the fuss was about on my Ivy, its loaded with flowers this year and we have been inundated with bees hoverfies flys and butterflies and what we thought were wasps will have a better look at them to see wether they are infact these Ivy bees

  22. We had Ivy bees nesting in the garden a few weeks ago. There were about 15 holes in the soil. Now, all is quiet and the holes are filled-over. Is it safe to hoe the soil again or are there likely to be bees nesting underground?

    • You are SO lucky! I’m very jealous… Unusual for them to nest in a flower bed – they usually like the very short grassy sandy banks (as shown in pic above) or the edges of golf sand bunkers (and sandy cliff edges). There will now be bees developing in the eggs below ground, so if you can leave the soil undisturbed that would be wonderful – but I understand that might be difficult! They will hatch in Sept next year, crawl out of the ground and mate straight away with males – then females will go off to dig their own burrows and lay eggs (and the hatched adults will eventually die off) – wonderful to watch this amazing life-cycle in your own back garden!

      • Looks like we’ve found the ideal reason not to do the gardening 🙂
        We’ll do our best not to disturb them – how deep are the eggs, by the way?

  23. I’m not sure how deep their eggs will be. I’m guessing – probably no more than a couple of inches (but I could be wrong!). I’m with you… definitely a good reason not to weed for a bit 🙂 Jane

  24. Hi,
    I have just seen about 3 of these bees in the last 10 minutes in my bedroom! We have ivy covering our house in Cambridge, east anglia. Watching them fly around our ivy is great but I think we may have a nest hole in the brickwork of our house.

    • Hi Faye. It is a bit unlikely that you have Ivy bees at this time of year as it is a too early for them. However, I’d be interested to know what you do have! Can you post a pic anywhere and copy in a link?

      Cheers, Stuart

  25. Hi
    Hundreds of these bees swarm all over the ivy in my garden at this time of year. I first noticed them about four years ago and thought they were wasps , on closer inspection I realised they were bees. The only reason I found this site is that I thought I might have a problem as they seem to have come back in force this year and have taken over the garden. Should I worry?

  26. Plymouth Devon , there are also honey bees , and a few bees that look like blue bottle flys ( from a distance ) , hoverflies and bubble bees. I will try and get photos

  27. I was researching for our urban potager in USA zone 5 and came across the ivy plant as having an “ivy bee” …crazy, I thought how is that possible. Then I put in the search engine for the “ivy bee” and came to your site. WOW…I had no idea! I have seen this bee in my yard over the years and had no idea it was named this, or that “Ivy hedera helix” was attracting beneficials to my yard. I have been battling the ivy in our front and side yards for years and thought it was useless…Thank you for posting this information , beautiful photos of this amazing little bee. I will be back to learn more. I have never noticed my ivy blooming, but now I will:-)

  28. These burrowing bees moved into our small front garden last September and this year have completely overrun our garden so that it is very difficult to reach our front door. How can we reclaim our garden without killing them? This is in Shoreham-by-Sea, West Sussex.

    • Can you live alongside them for a few weeks? They tend to be very placid, and are solitary nesters, so don’t join to make huge swarms (like honeybees). Each one will be making her own nest and filling it with pollen ready for her egg to eat once it hatches). They won’t be around for more than a few weeks – and are fantastic pollinators and very beautiful. You must have the perfect nesting conditions in your front garden – I’m very, very jealous.

      • We were fascinated by them last year, but they were mostly on the other side of the garden. This year they are more alongside the garden path which is unusable between 8 am and 7 pm, particularly for visitors and delivery men. There are far more this year than last and I dread to think about next year. I know they will disappear in October, but at the moment we are talking hundreds. I would just like to persuade them to move on!

    • Sheer numbers can be a problem when they first hatch out, but give it a week and their numbers should reduce. At the moment they are hatching out, mating and then the females are digging new individual nests. You should be able to walk through them pretty safely – I know I have in the past when watching them on the edge of a golf course bunker (1000s). Can you get the delivery people to deliver to the back door instead, or to a kindly neighbour? The only way to dissuade them would be to kill them – and I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t want to do that. It’s such a shame when wildlife comes into conflict with humans. There’s an info sheet about them here http://www.bwars.com/sites/www.bwars.com/files/info_sheets/01_Colletes_hederae_20100908.pdf

  29. Ive got hundreds of ivy bees all over my ivy. I live in West Wickham, Kent and have never seen them before. Like others I thought they were wasps at first. They’re tucked away half way down the garden so are no problem.

  30. Oddly, although we have ivy bees, we have no ivy out the front of the house, although we have a cemetery behind our back garden which does have ivy. However, I have not yet seen any bees flying away from our garden and seem to particularly like the rose bushes roots.

    • They are probably nesting around the roots of your rose bushes, and then flying to the cemetery to the ivy flowers to feed. They don’t always nest right next to their food source, and can fly quite a way to find it. Sound like you might have quite sandy soil!

  31. I have loads of ivy in my garden, and the bees come every year. As I look out of my window now the ivy is covered with hundreds of these ivy bees and also butterflies. I live in Prestatyn, North Wales.

  32. Pingback: Ivy Bee (Colletes hederae) nest site – video | nurturing nature

  33. Pingback: The Delightful Stripy Ivy Bee; Colletes hederae, – Pencil and Leaf

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