Wednesday, 19 October 2016

New bee arrives for first time in the UK

Viper’s bugloss mason bee, common in Europe, was spotted for the first time in Britain in a London park 

Friday 14 October 2016 16.57 BST Last modified on Friday 14 October 2016 22.00 BST

Brexit may have caused an anti-immigration buzz but a traveller from the continent has made the UK its new home: the viper’s bugloss mason bee.

The bee is common in the UK’s European neighbours but has been discovered for the first time in this country, in a small park in Greenwich, London. 

“I always have half an eye open, but I certainly didn’t expect that,” said David Notton, an insect expert at the Natural History Museum, who made the discovery in June. “It’s quite a big bee, so, if it was new, I thought someone else would have already spotted it.”

DNA tests confirmed the identity of the bee - Hoplitis adunca - and Notton gave it a common name based on the plant it exclusively feeds on, a blue-flowering plant in the borage family called viper’s bugloss.

Mason bees are solitary insects which nest in hollows in wood or plant stems and use mud to make walled compartments for their eggs. About 50 viper’s bugloss mason bees are now in Greenwich, making use of nesting boxes in the park provided by the Land Trust.

The viper’s bugloss mason bee is an expert traveller, because it can nest in holes in vehicles and freight, and Notton said that was a likely way it had arrived in London.

But he does not expect it to become widespread in the UK: “It needs a hot microclimate and it is at the edge of its [temperature] range” in southern England. However, he said places such as Dungeness, Rye and Salisbury Plain, where viper’s bugloss is common, could be settled by the bee in future.

Notton has also recently discovered a new-to-the-UK digger wasp and spider wasp, with the academic papers confirming the finds due soon. “It’s been a very good year,” he said.

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