Bees, for most people, mean honey or bumble bees. In fact, the honey bees and bumblebees make up only a small proportion of the bee species that live in Britain, while the other bees are the great majority (230 or more species). Now it is recognised that these other bees play an important role in the pollination of crops and wild flowering plants. This has prompted much new research. A shift to gardening for wildlife has brought the solitary bees into sharper relief: many people now recognise mining bees, leaf-cutters and mason bees in their gardens, and even provide 'bee hotels' for them.
This book draws on the great wave of new knowledge to give a wonderful insight into the complicated lives of solitary bees. The main focus is on the wonderful fascination and complexity of the behaviour and ecology of this remarkable group of insects. It uses many of the authors' own observations alongside the studies provided by others, to discover the numerous strategies used by male bees to find females and persuade them to mate. It follows the females in their search for a place to make their nest, and their gathering of materials – symmetrical sections of leaves, mud, chewed-up leaf fragments, plant hair or resin – to make the cells into which they place a store of nectar and pollen and lay a single egg. We watch them sealing up the nest, securing it until the following year when the new generation appears. We explore the interactions between flowering plants and their bee visitors, asking what the plants get from the relationship, as well as how the bees select the plants they visit, and the ingenuity required to extract pollen, nectar and other rewards. Finally, we look at the places where bees flourish, highlighting what can be done to encourage bees and thus ensure they continue to pollinate our flowers and crops.
Editor's preface vi
Author's Acknowledgements viii
1. The Diversity of Solitary Bees 27
2. Sex and the Solitary Bee 59
3. The Life Cycle: Nesting Behaviour and Development 101
4. From Solitary to Social and Back 159
5. Bees and Flowers, Part I 177
6. Bees and Flowers, Part II 235
7. Parasites and Predators 303
8. Cuckoo Bees 361
9. Time, Space and Temperature 405
10. Ecology and Conservation 455
List of British Solitary Bees 531
References and Bibliography 540
Species Index 568
General Index 582
Ted Benton and Nick Owens are entomologists with a particular interest in behaviour and ecology. Ted’s previous volume in the New Naturalist series – Bumblebees – is a classic on this group of social bee species. This was followed by another New Naturalist: Grasshoppers & Crickets, again focusing on the insects’ complex social behaviour. Nick has recently written The Bees of Norfolk and The Bumblebee Book (both Pisces Publications) as well as co-authoring The Bees and Wasps of the Balearic Islands (Entomofauna).
"[...] This is an excellent book, bringing together current knowledge and thinking on British solitary bees drawn from nearly 30 pages of references, ranging from scientific papers to enthusiast-generated anecdotes and everything in between. [...] There is something here for every bee enthusiast, or
anyone with an interest in insects more generally, and 99% of readers will surely learn many things from this book. [...] In summary, if any acquaintances of yours want to absorb all there is to know about solitary bees, buy this book for them – they will love you for it."
– David Basham, British Wildlife 35(3), December 2023
"As the authors neatly put it: ‘For most of us, solitary bees inhabit an unmarked space in our mental map of the natural world’. But I had no idea quite how uncharted that space was until I picked this splendid volume. If the value of a book is measured by how often the uninitiated (i.e me) something they didn’t know, then Benton and Owens' Solitary Bees scores 10 out of 10 [...]"
– Ken Thompson, The Niche 54(3)