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Discover the Hairy-footed Flower Bee

5th May 2020

Can you help track the changing distribution of one of the North East's rarest bee species?

Hair-footed Flower Bee (female) © Ryan Clark

The Hairy-footed Flower Bee is a solitary bee rarely recorded in the North East. Records are clustered around Alnwick in North Northumberland with no records from South Northumberland or County Durham. It is fantastic to see that this bee has been sighted by participants of The North East Bee Hunt. If you live in North Northumberland, you may have spotted this bumblebee lookalike in your gardens and allotments this spring.

This solitary bee is often mistaken for a bumblebee as both are furry and plump bees. Females are black-furred with an orange brush of hairs on their hind legs that are used to carry pollen. In contrast, males are gingery and have a yellow-marked face. A distinctive feature of the males is the feather-like hairs on their middle legs. It is these feathery hairs that give rise to the bee’s common name and its Latin name “plumipes” in fact means “feathered foot”. Due to their gingery coat, males can often be mistaken for Common Carder Bumblebees. Remember to look out for their yellow-marked faces and feathery-haired middle legs.

Hairy-footed Flower Bee (male) © Ryan Clark

Another feature to look out for is this species’ flight behaviour. The darting and hovering flight of this bee contrasts with the ‘bumbling’ flight of bumblebees. Males are often seen patrolling areas in search for mates and hover behind females to then ‘pounce’ and attempt to mate. The male’s feathery leg hairs are displayed during mating though why males do this is not fully understood.

On the wing from March to June, this species forages on a wide variety of early-flowering plants such as Dead-nettles, Pulmonaria and Primroses. As a species of solitary bee, the females single-handedly construct and provision their own nest burrows. This bee favours nesting in old cob walls, soft mortar joints and other soft vertical faces. The nests are lined with clumped together soil particles and each egg is provisioned with pollen. In favourable locations, females can be nesting close together in large groups.

If live in North Northumberland, particularly around the Alnwick area, and you have photographed what you think could be a Hairy-footed Flower Bee, please share it with us on our social media platforms or email us at nhsn@ncl.ac.uk. The NHSN Bee Team can then help you to confirm your sighting. By submitting your sightings of bees to The North East Bee Hunt’s iRecord activity form, you can help to build up a more accurate picture of their distributions in the region.

by Charlotte Rankin, local naturalist