Early Mining Bee

The Early Mining Bee is the first solitary bee I ever took note of. I spotted one pottering around on the garden table a couple of years ago and didn’t know what this charming little creature could be. Luckily it happened to be one of the most easily identifiable mining bees – subsequent efforts at identification have been a rather more mixed success but I do have a soft spot for this one.

The Early Mining Bee – Andrena haemorrhoa in the latin – is one of the larger mining bees and nests solitarily, although there may be loose aggregations of nesting females where the habitat is suitable.

I spotted this one searching for its nesting hole in our back garden before disappearing down the tiny, perfectly round hole. A few moments later, when my elbows and knees were already getting sore, it popped back out. It pauses a moment, has a preen, seems slightly startled by a Chocolate Mining Bee (Andrena scotica) which was buzzing around above it, and then hops out and flies back away. I often see these holes, and it was a real treat to actually watch the bee emerge.

The Early Mining Bee is common across the UK, and are fairly generalist in terms of the flower species they visit which makes them well suited to our gardens where they are regularly seen foraging and nesting.

You can read more about mining bees, and what takes place below the ground, in Brigit Strawbridge’s excellent blog post on the subject here.

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Lace-web Spiders

A walk through a disused railway tunnel last week – now arching over a Sustrans cycling route – revealed hundreds of webs attached to the ceiling. Each web was built flat against the brickwork, and they each had two definite and neatly shaped holes which allowed the spider access behind the web. The holes did not correspond to similar holes in the brickwork; rather they were two different entrances to the mortar-filled cracks which ran between the bricks.

Lace webbed spider web - Amaurobius sp.

I liked the effect of this array of webs – especially with a slightly longer exposure on a windy day, they made quite an abstract pattern.

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The webs belong to lace webbed spiders – Amaurobius spp. It is difficult to ID these more precisely because there are two very similar spiders – Amaurobius fenestralis and A. similis. The similis species is more often associated with houses and brickwork which makes this the more likely ID for these colonies. A. fenestralis is more often found beneath the bark of trees.

I went back at night to find out what these spiders looked like – they are quite dark and robust with attractive patterning on the backs. Many were out and patrolling their webs, whilst others remained inside, or just protruding from the entrance holes.

Lace-web weaver spider - Amaurobius spp.

Two lace-web weaver spiders – Amaurobius spp. – one half-within the entrance to its web, the other out on the surface at night.

These are quite a common species in the UK and are one of those most commonly mistaken for the false widow – itself vilified beyond reason by the British Press in search of a story. The lace-web weaver can in fact bite if pushed, but there are very few cases recorded and it will be nothing more than a slight nip.

The spiders can often be found associated with the brickwork of houses, and I found similar smaller colonies associated with bridges and other brickwork along the Grantham Canal. If you do come across one, you can gently coax the spider out using a tuning fork, or lightly tapping the web with a twig to simulate an insect. Be careful not to damage the web though – they are the equivalent of a fisherman’s net and are vital to allow the spiders to catch the food they need to survive.