After staying in several garden-free English B&Bs, it was delightful to arrive at Mimosa Lodge in Cowes, on the Isle of Wight, where there was a half-acre of garden AND sunshine. I could hear a number of birds as we pulled in. However, when I went outside after unpacking, I discovered that much of the wildlife activity was coming from insects in the flower bed next to the breakfast terrace, and in the nearby flowering trees.
The first thing I noticed was the darker coloration of many of the honey bees. I concluded that these must be British Black Bees (Apis mellifera mellifera).
Between 1916 and 1925 the British black bee was nearly wiped out in England and Wales by the acarine mite. (Ironically, in view of where I was, the outbreak was called ‘Isle of Wight disease’.) Large numbers of the European Honey Bee (Apis mellifera) were brought in to ensure that pollination and honey production were maintained. These are the more golden-coloured variety we are familiar with in Australia, and one is visible with the bumblebee below.
Bumblebees! More new bees for me to research! Apparently the old name for them was Dumbledore, and yes, that’s where J K Rowling got her name for Harry Potter’s headmaster. Another discovery was that there are about two dozen bumblebee species in the UK alone. I’m still not sure of the identity of the ones in this garden, as they didn’t seem to correspond exactly to the samples I could find. So I think it’s a Buff-tailed Bumblebee (Bombus terrestris), also shown in the image below. This is also the species which has been introduced to Tasmania.
There were also several types of solitary bee in the garden. The most striking was the Hairy-footed Flower Bee (Anthophora plumipes). The picture below is of a female. The bee has a swift darting flight, and looks a bit like a black version of our teddy-bear bee. Also like the teddy-bear, the soft mortar of old brick walls is one of its preferred nest sites.
This gives a better view of the colour of the scopal hairs on her back leg.
The male Hairy-footed Flower bee is quite differently coloured, being much more gingery or reddish-brown, and I’m pretty sure this is one. Its feet are certainly hairy enough to rival any hobbit’s!
There were a couple more solitary bees whose identification I’m not sure about, although I suspect this next one is a Red Mason Bee (Osmia bicornis.) The name derives from the mud or clay the female uses to build her nest. The bees are not aggressive, and are immune to honey bee pests like the varroa mite. However this one had three mites on the back of its thorax, clearly visible in the photograph.
The last bee was this little black one, whose identity I do not know.
It was grooming itself very thoroughly.
And then there were the non-bees. The one below was easy to pick; it’s a hoverfly (family Syrphidae) – similar to ones in Sydney and elsewhere in the world.
Finally there was this one, with the most spectacular proboscis. It had me baffled for a bit, until I realised it was a Bee Fly (possibly Bombylius major), which is a different family from the Hoverflies. They are nest parasites of solitary bees and wasps, the female hovering over the entrance to the nest tunnel and flicking one or more eggs into it. When the maggots hatch, they feed on the food supply laid down by the host bee for its own larvae.
Overall, a wonderful hour or two in one small space.
My photos were all taken in the grounds of Mimosa Lodge, which I really do recommend to anyone staying on the Isle of Wight. Their website is at www.mimosa-lodge.co.uk
North Sydney – my home suburb – holds Sydney’s second largest CBD. However its parks and bushland areas, and those of neighbouring councils such as Willoughby, host a surprising variety of native flora and fauna. These bush areas are maintained by dedicated council staff, often working with local resident volunteers.