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Field Guides & Natural History  Insects & other Invertebrates  Insects  Bees, Ants & Wasps (Hymenoptera)

Solitary Bees

Series: New Naturalist Series Volume: 146
By: Ted Benton(Author), Nick Owens(Author)
596 pages, 358 colour photos and colour & b/w illustrations, 34 tables
Solitary Bees
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  • Solitary Bees ISBN: 9780008304553 Hardback May 2023 In stock
  • Solitary Bees ISBN: 9780008304577 Paperback May 2023 Out of Print #259553
Selected version: £65.00
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About this book

*We have a very limited number of bookplates signed by the authors for this edition, available while stocks last

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

Introduction   1
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
Glossary   538
References and Bibliography   540
Species Index   568
General Index   582

Customer Reviews (1)

  • Our most important bee species
    By Keith 2 Jul 2023 Written for Paperback
    In the last year or so I have started to notice bees other than honey or bumble bees. I had clocked that there were 24 species of bumble bee, and I had started to identify them, but in a way, I was feeling that this was a bit of a cop-out as they are relatively easy to identify. So I went to look at solitary bees, and yes, … that’s getting tougher. Now we are talking about over 250 species in the UK, and as the name suggests – they are solitary. Although they are a bit harder to find and identify, they actually play an important role in the pollination of crops and wild flowering plants.

    OK, so yes the females of these solitary bees can still sting you, but they don’t do that unless you are being an idiot. In fact, they have a bigger fan club than you might imagine. Ever seen a bee hotel? They are for solitary bees. I am seeing them everywhere now, but I doubt that many people buying these know which bees they are trying to attract. So they should read this book.

    I would argue that nobody has done more in recent years to raise their profile than Ted Benton. Both he and Nick Owens are entomologists with a particular interest in behaviour and ecology. Ted’s recent field guide to solitary bees (published by Pelagic) is both well-written and attractive. However, collectors of the Collins New Naturalist series will know him from his earlier volume on Bumblebees and a previous one on Grasshopper and Crickets. Nick Owens has been busy too and has recently written The Bees of Norfolk and The Bumblebee Book as well as co-authoring The Bees and Wasps of the Balearic Islands.

    This latest book is (like other recent volumes in the NN series) on the large side – at almost 600 pages. Back in the 1930s the early NNs rarely exceeded 250 pages, but unlike those, this is packed full of colour photographs.

    The authors start by looking at the diversity of solitary bees, and then move on to explore their sex lives. They may be solitary, but they have to mate and the male needs to track down a female. Once he has mated with her (and maybe others) his life ends. The development of the grubs is followed, including hibernation through the winter. We are reminded that although these bees are solitary, they do often choose to nest close to other bees. The relationships between different bee species and flowers are explored in detail as is the complex matter of parasites, and the issue of “cuckoo bees” who lay eggs in the nests of other bees (including bumblebees).

    Given that insects like solitary bees are crucial to the pollination of our plants and the success of our agriculture, it is right that the book also puts the case for their protection and conservation. Despite an estimated 12 billion bees in the UK, they are declining and feeling the effects of habitat loss. Pollution and climate change are also challenges – as they struggle to cope with recent weather extremes that have brought summer droughts while at other times there is sudden flooding. The rapid changing of the seasons may mean that bees start to lose their synchronicity with the flowering plants they forage on.

    This book is a great resource to understand what solitary bees need. They make up 90% of the range of our bee species, and it’s time that we paid them more attention.
    16 of 18 found this helpful - Was this helpful to you? Yes No


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).

Series: New Naturalist Series Volume: 146
By: Ted Benton(Author), Nick Owens(Author)
596 pages, 358 colour photos and colour & b/w illustrations, 34 tables
Media reviews

"[...] 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)

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