When I see a bee buzzing around my garden or in the park in early spring, I get a real thrill from being able to identify her. If she is black and darting among small, white tubular flowers with her long tongue protruding and her legs tucked under her furry, round body, I know she is a hairy-footed flower bee.
A few years ago I wouldn’t have noticed her because, like most people, I thought all bees were striped. I also assumed they made honey, stung, and lived in a hive with a queen bee and her workers. But only honeybees fit this description, and they account for just a handful or so of the astonishing 25,000 bee species worldwide. Bumblebees – the plump, stripy garden visitors that have been voted the UK’s favourite insect – make up about 1%. The vast majority, like the hairy-footed flower bee, come in many different colours, don’t make honey, and live alone. These solitary bees are often named according to how they construct their nests: from plasterer bees, which line their nest with a waterproof substance, to mining bees, which excavate elaborate underground burrows, and leafcutter bees, which plug the entrance with small discs of leaves cut from rose bushes.
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