New Solitary Bees book

Before writing the review, I asked Ted why he wrote the book bearing in mind he is better known for his bumblebee work and this was his reply:

Since early childhood I’ve lived a passionate engagement with wildlife – often focussing on the small and close at hand. Insects, especially have always fascinated me. Over they years of studying and in my leisure time, I found time to write about butterflies, bumblebees, dragonflies, and grasshoppers. Although I was for many years fascinated by the less well-known, often unnoticed ‘solitary bees’.

After retiring I’ve been able to spend more time studying their immensely varied and amazing ways of life. I wanted to communicate some of this to others. A big difficulty is that with well over 200 species, many very similar to each other, there is quite a challenge. Not everyone will want to start out with an expensive binocular microscope, chemical poisons and all the paraphernalia of collecting.

So, my idea was to write a book which would help someone who had watched leaf-cutter bees in the garden, or had attracted mason bees to make their nests in a bee-box. I wanted to convey the fascination of these insects to someone who had not really noticed them before, as well as furthering the understanding of people who were already ‘hooked’ (but without getting into collecting, microscopic examination etc). I also wanted to display the great and fascinating diversity of the group and their different lifestyles. Finally, I wanted to suggest places to look for them, and ways to provide habitat to help in conservation.

With a hand lens and photographs it is possible to sort the bees you see into the main groups of genera to which they belong. In some cases, e.g. the mining bees belonging to Andrena, there are many species, but in some there are just one or two species, so it is possible to be reasonably confident about the identity of quite a few species: especially ones you are likely to encounter in the garden or local green space. This opens up many hours of fascinating observation and discovery. To help with the identification I put a lot of photographs in it.

The book gives background information on nesting habits, life-cycles, relationships to flowers, conservation and practical things you can do to support bees and their habitats. Hopefully many readers will want to go further and embark on a more detailed and advanced study, with collecting equipment and anatomical diagnosis of the more ‘difficult’ groups – for such people, I hope this book will serve as a stepping stone to the more advanced literature.

My Review

I knew it was going to be an acceptable read for me, when I read his description of a new species to my garden, the wool carder bee, (Anthidium manicatum). It is full of those little snip-bits of interesting information that I like that are easy to remember! For example, Osmia bicornis collects pollen from as many as 19 plant families, there are 225 or more species of solitary bee, just 7 species of leafcutter bees with 12 of Osmia, 3 of these nesting in snail shells, in the British Isles. Male hairy footed flower bees,(Anthophora plumipes) can mate for as long as 40 minutes. The following Osmia bicornis snip-bit of information I found interesting.

Osmia bicornis (rufa)

A very common bee found in my garden is Osmia bicornis, how did it get that name? It used to be called O. rufa, with rufa meaning red. Thinking about solitary bees there are many other species that are red, some even more red than O. rufa! e.g. Tawny mining bee (Andrena fulva), especially the females. I knew that Osmia means ‘sense of smell’. From Ted’s book, bicornis means ‘two horned’.

Thumbs up Ted! Now I know how they got their name!

Although a lot of the terminology is academic, it is written in a style that the everyday non academic person can grasp. I do like the fact that, there are no maths, stats or graphs, important as they are for some people. I have had several species of bee in my garden that I simply do not know and many solitary bees are very similar and can easily be mis identified. Personally I will not be catching bees, killing them, buying a microscope, checking keys and guides and look at their sexual organs, patterns on wings etc., for me to identify any. Just not my style, I will leave that to academics, students, professionals and bee enthusiasts! There is simply too much to learn and that is too time consuming for me, when I have a garden full of other wildlife to view and observe, all of which are fascinating in their own right and each one needs another lifetime!!

Did Ted succeed in his aims?

I found the photographs were not only beautiful but helpful for identification. It certainly made grabbed my attention especially as it was not too technical and it is littered with interesting behavioural observations, which I particularly like, especially as he specifically mentions the use of video to capture behaviour of detail not perceptible by unaided observation. I think my video here is an example of that. I will be re reading this book especially the detailed behavioural studies he writes about. It just makes you observe not just look at bees when you are aware of their behaviour.

He was right about the expensive microscope and collecting to identify. For those who do wish to expand their identification skills, he describes how to best catch the bee and then gives practical ideas to aid with its identification.

I have several other natural history books published by Pelagic books of which this is number 33 and I know from my collection that this would be a quality book to own.

Chapters include : Diversity and recognition; Bee lives; Cuckoos in the nest; Bees and flowers; The conservation of solitary bees; Approaches to practical work; Keys to the genera of bees of the British Isles – Females and Males; and References and further reading.

Solitary Bees by Ted Benton available from Pelagic Publishing

Want to observe solitary bees in more detail? See my solitary bee observation nest box.

For more information about solitary bees see BWARS

For info and link to buy an excellent book Field Guide to the Bees of Great Britain and Ireland by Steven Falk

An extremely useful resource supports this book by a special web site feature within Steve Falk’s Flickr web site which furnishes extra photos and other useful resources to assist with identification.

Intersted in Citizen Science and pollinators? (e.g. bees!) The Buzz Club

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