It's not all about the honey.
Solitary bees do not produce honey or wax. They don’t appear in large colonies like honeybees and bumblebees, and they most certainly don’t all look the same.
So what is so special about them? Believe it or not, there are over 240 species of solitary bee in the UK alone, many of them carrying out a vital role in pollinating our crops, flowers and trees. Despite their name, solitary bees can be very social creatures and often nest close to one another. Some will even help their mothers by collecting pollen and nectar for their future siblings. Roughly 70% are called mining bees and nest in burrows under ground, whereas cavity nesting bees prefer to live in linear nests of holly stems, pre-existing tunnels found in wood or even snail shells.
Solitary bees generally emerge from their nests in the spring ready for the mating season. The males emerge first and, after feeding, wait around the nest for the females to turn up. Once mating is complete, the males die fairly quickly - what a life! The females then go on to start the process of nesting, selecting a suitable site to lay their eggs.
With the male eggs at the front of the nest and the females at the back, they will hatch into larvae and feed on the pollen and nectar that has been stored up in the nest by the female bee. The larvae develop and pupate, emerging the following spring and repeating the cycle all over again.
Pollinating animals such as solitary bees are responsible for pollinating an incredible third of all the food we eat. For many crops, wild insects such as solitary bees are twice as effective at pollinating flowers.
However, due to the increased use of chemicals in farming and larger field sizes, their habitats have become increasingly under threat. There are fewer wildflower meadows and hedgerows, which used to provide ample homes to a wide range of wildlife. Also, as we build more properties and landscape our gardens, we unwittingly destroy solitary bee nesting sites. In some parts of China, pollination is already being undertaken using paintbrushes because there are no bees left to do it naturally.
Solitary Bee Week is a week of raising awareness about the importance of these extraordinary pollinators, whilst suggesting simple ways we can all help the solitary bees.
Check out our Earn Your Stripes campaign, and pledge to become a Solitary Bee Hero!