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« From the Clifftop and East Guldeford Levels | Main | From the Clifftop »

More on Colletes cunicularius at Galley Hill

Went back to Galley Hill yesterday to check on the Colletes cunicularius and get some more data especially due to the unusual time of emergence and habitat compared to most populations of this species in Britain including the nearby population at Rye Harbour (discovered by Chris Bentley).

There are a number of made up common names for this species, the one I prefer is spring plasterer bee as it is most descriptive. Colletes produce a gland secretion that the females, using their short bilobed tongue, line their underground brood cells with which dries into a natural polyester. And C.cunicularius emerges in spring (April-May) unlike most other species of Colletes which are on the wing later in the year (June-November).

At least six nests were found right at the top of the landslip spoil in a discrete line adjacent to the landslip scar. Roughly 30-40 males were patrolling the cliff above the nests occasionally investigating holes looking for females. Hundreds of Andrena thoracica (cliff mining bee) males were also on the wing in the same area, as well as smaller numbers of Andrena flavipes (yellow-legged mining bee), Lasioglossum malachurum (sharp-collared furrow bee) and Anthophora plumipes (hairy-footed flower bee).

The most interesting information gained though was a record of two Colletes females at Petasites fragrans (winter heliotrope) flowers on the adjacent railway sidings with bright white pollen loads. Dozens of female Andrena thoracica and smaller numbers of female Andrena flavipes were also foraging from this pollen resource. It is interesting to note that only the male flowers of this dioecious plant, introduced and naturalised from the Mediterranean, are known in Britain.

Dense rhizomatous Petasites fragrans growth on Galley Hill railway siding.

British populations of C.cunicularius are usually associated with loose sand nesting habitats and Salix pollen, especially those in north-west England and Wales. The population at Galley Hill adds further evidence that the recent colonisation in south-east England is most likely from continental populations of the species which are much more widely polylectic (collect pollen from a wide range of plants).

As well as the bees there were many other insects on the wing including dozens of green tiger beetles. The undercliff at Galley Hill supports a large population of this beetle and is usually only seen in numbers like this in early April.

Andy Phillips

(Photos by Andy Phillips and Ian Phillips)



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