Jane is a naturalist, photographer and nature writer living in Dorset. Her work has appeared in books, anthologies and blogs for charities such as The Wildlife Trusts and the International Bee Research Association. When she’s not exploring Dorset’s lanes and countryside she can be found lying on her stomach watching insects in her garden. Jane’s entry for this blog’s Lockdown Nature-writing challenge was shortlisted and can be found by clicking here. Jane is currently studying for an MA in Travel and Nature Writing at Bath Spa University and can be found: www.janevadams.com and on Twitter @WildlifeStuff
At first I ignored my friend when she said, “If you plant it, they will come”.
After months of reading about the Wool-carder Bee (Anthidium manicatum), learning what it looked like, the habitat it preferred and the female’s habit of collecting hairs from leaves to line her nest, I was still bemoaning the fact that I hadn’t seen one. My friend was getting frustrated.
“Just buy a bl**dy Lamb’s-ear and plant it in the garden. What have you got to lose?”
She was right, but I still thought the likelihood of a Wool-carder bee chancing upon my semi-urban garden was pretty low. But I humoured her, and on the 9th of June 2011 I tracked down a very hairy-leafed Lamb’s-ear (Stachys byzantina) at a local garden centre. Planted it, watered it, and waited.
I’m not sure why I waited. I wasn’t expecting anything to happen, so when a bee appeared one hour and forty-five minutes later, it didn’t initially register. Its almost hairless face was a brighter yellow than I’d expected, and it was chunkier than the one-dimensional photos in the books, buxom even.
We stared at each other. The bee on a leaf of the newly planted Lamb’s-ear, me leaning on my elbows awkwardly trying to crawl forwards on my stomach. With its head down and yellow-dashed abdomen hunched behind, it scraped downy silver-green hairs from the leaf with its mandibles, rolling them into a fluffy ball under its chin as it shuffled backwards. It was a female Wool-carder bee.
Then she was gone.
I watched her many times after that, sometimes feeding on the plant’s tiny pink flowers, collecting more ‘wool’ from the velvet leaves, sometimes mating with the even chunkier male. He had started to defend her plant from other male Wool-carder Bees, but his aggressive swipes on even the largest hoverflies and bumblebees were reckless to say the least. He was punching well above his weight.
The clump of Lamb’s-ear has spread, and more bees appear each year. I find myself waiting anxiously for them at the start of June, but still haven’t found out where they nest. No doubt they’re tucked away in a cavity nearby, lined with thousands of tiny hairs from my plants.
Maybe I need to build a bee nesting box with just the right sized holes for the female to squeeze into? I should stop procrastinating.
“If I build it, they will come”.
Wool-carder Bee (Anthidium manicatum) fact file
Roughly the size of a honeybee, but chunkier. Male bigger than females. Yellow markings on face and yellow spots/dashes down the side of a dark coloured abdomen. Seen from June to August. Common in southern England and south coast of Wales. Scarcer elsewhere in the UK. No sting but the male has a set of spikes on his tail that he uses to guard a patch of flowers for female suitors, sometimes killing insect intruders. Nests in existing holes, including wood, hollow stems and man-made objects. Feeds on many flowers including Lamb’s-ear, Bird’s-foot Trefoil and Orange Hawkbit. Female cards hairs from plants such as Lamb’s-ear and Great Mullein.