Keep an eye out for the solitary Wool Carder Bee
The Waterford-based National Biodiversity Data Centre is asking nature enthusiasts and gardeners to keep an eye out for one of the newest additions to our insect fauna, a solitary bee that is extending its range northwards and is now turning up in Ireland.
It is solitary in that it does not live in large colonies like the Honey Bee and while it is a bee, people are not in danger of being stung. It is a harmless insect that visits gardens to collect pollen to feed on. It's called the Wool Carder Bee.
Wool carding is the process in which loose fibres of wool are manipulated into thin strands prior to spinning. The Wool Carder Bee gets its name from the fact that females collect hairs that they scrape off the stems and leaves of hairy plants like Lamb's Ear, woundworts, Yarrow and Great Mullein.
The female bee brings these hairs back to her nest in a ball where she cards the untidy mass, teasing out the individual hairs with her sharply-toothed jaws for use in the construction and lining of brood cells in her nest. Her industry earned the species the common name 'Wool Carder Bee'.
The species is endemic to mainland Europe. Some years ago, it colonised Wales and England. It has now arrived in Ireland. It was first recorded in this country from three sites in County Wexford in the summer of 2015. In 2016, it was reported from County Cork and last Sunday it was spotted in Kilkenny city.
It is normally found in gardens, parks, fields, and meadows and is on the wing from May to September. With a wingspan of 20mm, it is one of our largest solitary bee species and is also one of the most distinctive. Both male and female Wool Carder Bees have dusky wings and a pattern of yellowish markings along the side of the abdomen, head and legs.
The male is fiercely territorial, defending his territory vigorously against other insects. He will fly directly and rapidly at any insect invading his air space to move them on.
Anyone spotting this new arrival is urged to take a photo of it and e-mail the image with details to bee expert Úna FitzPatrick at email@example.com. All records will be gratefully received and greatly appreciated by the National Biodiversity Data Centre to enable the spread northwards of this latest addition to our insect fauna to be monitored and studied.