This weekend I’ve posted photos and poetry about bugs, and I have been thinking about all the small creatures who visit us and who share our house and garden. There were a couple of ants in one of the poetry fragments, but I’m a bit surprised they don’t crop up more often in my writing as this land is riddled with ants’ nests.
It’s definitely not one single nest, as the ants come in different sizes: tiny ones who attack me when I hang the washing out, medium-sized ones who object when I water the tomatoes, and the huge ones who seem slightly less social and, fortunately, also less aggressive.
There are so many of the smaller ones that the garden is criss-crossed with bare tracks where the little armies have marched back and forth along the same route, presumably having found a particularly good food source at a distance from the nest entrance. The track in the picture below was about two inches wide and was worn under the linden tree just when the blossoms had dropped.
At one stage I thought that there was a big ants’ nest under the patio. Certainly something was burrowing and throwing up sand hills between the slates. Every time I swept the patio I would be destroying little volcanoes like the one in the first photo above.
Paying a little more attention revealed that the bugs who came and went from these holes were actually flying insects of some sort. Last year the ones I saw were tiny, drab little creatures.
But there’s something about the way a bee flies that makes it recognisable, even if it’s nothing like the bumble bees and honey bees I was brought up with; after researching, then, I decided they must be one of the many species of mining bee.
The tunnels in the photo below don’t have the tell-tale heap of sand, but I don’t know if that’s because I’ve swept it away or whether they’re actually a different type of nest. Certainly this year’s bees seem quite different: much larger and with more recognisably bee-like stripes. I watched them for quite a while yesterday morning, but couldn’t get a better picture than this one of one of them entering her nest:
It seems that, unlike the communal nests of ants, each tunnel belongs to one single bee. We may have scores of them, but they are “solitary” animals.
It is slightly disturbing to think of the quantities of sand I have swept from the patio over the last few years and I have a nagging feeling that one day it will collapse under me. So I’m glad to find that, like most bees, mining bees don’t tend to sting unless provoked. Then again, having your roof cave in might well count as provocation.
2 thoughts on “a is for ant; b is for…”
Burrowing bees do make comunal nests. They are very beneficial to agriculture as they are usually smaller than apis mellifera the “common” or central european honeybee. They are necessary for crops like rapeseed that benefits from the smaller size and frantic activity. There are several kinds of bees, solitary bees, even minute bees that don’t make hexagonal cells and pile up wax bubbles filled with honey. Size does matter in bees, in fact, it is vital for the short term survival of those who make a living with bees. In my humble opinion and experiencd, The main culprit of the current extintion of bees, very much in fashion nowadays, is size. It is not pesticides, transgenic plants. Smaller bees don’t suffer the illnesses larger bees suffer, mainly a “bug” called “varroa destructor” that takes over hives. It sucks so much blood, that it weakens the insect to such an extent that any virus or fungus is lethal to bees. Small bees don’t have that problem
Although I have no first hand knowledge of bees – other than that my patio appears to be riddled with their nests! – I can’t help but feel that pesticides and transgenic plants can’t do much to help, even if their effect is not so extreme as some would have us believe.
I hope your own hives are full of happy little bees!