Wildlife Drama Under Lockdown. An essay by Juliet Wilson

Under the rules of the coronavirus lockdown in Scotland, Daily Exercise is limited to walking, cycling or jogging within the very local area.

Here in our part of central Edinburgh, one of the few very local green-spaces is a small park, little more than a path behind the local supermarket with children’s play-parks, some grass bordered by trees that line the nearby road and a grassy bank. Early in lockdown we were delighted to see waxwings (regular visitors to this area) in the trees, even on 9 April, which seems pretty late for these charismatic winter visitors, who by that date have normally returned to their breeding grounds in Scandanavia.

But the real wildlife drama was yet to happen.

As the weather got warmer, we started to notice chocolate mining bees around patches of bare soil in one of the grassy banks. These bees are named for their colour, they don’t (disappointingly) mine chocolate! They are solitary bees, nesting in tunnels rather than in hives, though these tunnels are often found in colonies.

After a few days, some smaller solitary bees started hanging around near the mining bees. With a little research we discovered that these are a species of nomad cuckoo bees, which parasitise the mining bees by laying their eggs in the same tunnels. As time went on, more and more nomad bees were hovering around the entrance to the mining bee colony. The mining bees had to brave their parasites to get into their own homes. We also, on one occasion, saw a dark edged bee fly, which also parasitises solitary bees by laying eggs in the same tunnels. The first eggs laid deep down in the tunnels by the mining bees will eventually develop into mining bees but the later eggs will be eaten by the larvae of the cuckoo bees and it will be cuckoo bees that eventually emerge, unless of course those eggs in turn have been eaten by the larvae of the bee flies!

All this drama happening almost without notice just behind the local supermarket! And we would never have discovered this if lockdown hadn’t restricted our nature walks.


Juliet is an adult education tutor and conservation volunteer based in Edinburgh, Scotland. She blogs at Crafty Green Poet (http://craftygreenpoet.blogspot.com)

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