a win for biodiversity: BEE UPDATE FROM MEADE FARM


We noticed a few beehives had formed in the eaves of our security hut. Wanting to ensure that our head of security Michael and all visitors were safe from any swarms we called resident beekeeper Ken Boyle out to use his expertise to possibly 'herd' them to a new home elsewhere. Ken was delighted to report that these were non-aggressive Red Mason Bees, a welcome new addition to the farm! Their venom is very weak so they are not a stinging threat - Michael and our visitors are safe ! - and we are thrilled to have this amazing bee here at Meade's. They will nest in their masonry-like hives for a short time, then move on until next year. It is an encouraging sign that our tireless efforts on the biodiversity front are paying off and our grounds are able to sport these pollinating work horses who can do the pollination of 100 honeybees!


MORE ABOUT THE RED MASON BEE FROM KEN:


Osimia Bicornis or Red Mason are large solitary bees about 10 to 14mm in length. They have a chunky appearance and sport a lovely coat of orange/red hair. Depending on the weather and abundance of pollen rich flowers in the area they are active for a few weeks in between April and June. Red Masons are not aggressive, they can sting but to us the venom is too weak to feel. The reason for their name is the method they use to raise the next generation. They collect pollen and form a ball of it with a single egg laid in the centre. They then forage for mud which they make into a clay/mortar like substance to encase the pollin ball in. This will emerge and repeat the cycle next year. They are solitary bees and one bee makes one nest but they are quite happy to share the same locations or entrances as other Red Masons so sometimes it can look they are a much bigger colony.


DR. UNA FITZPATRICK OF THE ALL IRELAND POLLINATOR PLAN explains the solitary Mason Bee varieties and what it means to be a "solitary bee":


In Ireland, we have two different mason species. The Gold-fringed mason bee (Osmia aurulenta) is a gorgeous little coastal dweller. It only lives on sand dunes, where it makes it’s nest in an empty snail shell! The Red Mason bee (Osmia bicornis) usually nests in loose masonry or in bee boxes.


Have you ever heard of solitary bees?

Many 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.

After mating, the female can store sperm to use as required. We don’t know exactly how many eggs one solitary female lays. But we do know it varies from species to species, and that experts estimate it’s a maximum of 20-25 eggs per female. She will purposely use her sperm store to lay fertilised eggs at the back of the nest and these will become females. At the front, she’ll lay unfertilised eggs, which will become males. They’re closest to the entrance so that they emerge first and will be ready and waiting for females once they appear.

Although most solitary bees prefer to make their nest alone, some species are more sociable and like to build their nests in little groups or aggregations. Some solitary bees are called cuckoo bees or cleptoparasites. This means they steal the nest of another solitary bee instead of creating their own. The female, so-called ‘cuckoo bee’ enters the nest of another species and lays an egg near the pollen food supply gathered by the owner. When the cuckoo bee’s egg hatches into a larva, they kill off the cell occupant and eat the food supply that’s been left. This may seem cruel, but it’s a common phenomenon in nature.


We hope that insight into our new resident piqued your interest in these fascinating and essential co-habitants of our land! For more information, check out pollinators.ie