A solitary bee species has been recorded as new to Britain by researchers at the Natural History Museum (NHM).
When David Notton, the Museum’s senior curator of Hymenoptera, caught an unknown bee in Lewisham in south London, it set into motion a cascade of identification work that resulted in a new species being added to the list of British bees.
“I grow British wildflowers in my garden to attract bees, and I’m always looking to see what visits,” says Notton.
He was unable to identify the male bee using British bee identification keys or similar-looking bees in museum collections.
Upon using European identification keys, the specimen was found to be Nomada facilis, which was then confirmed via DNA analysis by another NHM scientist, Hannah Norman.
The discovery of N. facilis prompted a re-examination of other Nomada specimens in collections and an additional 11 individuals were found, having previously been classified as N. integra.
The earliest specimen was found sometime before 1802, and the last one was collected in 1950, showing that the species has been in Britain for at least two centuries.
Nomada bees are parasitic, laying their eggs in the nest of mining bee species. When the eggs hatch, the larvae eat the supplies of pollen and nectar collected by the host bee.
Due to the distribution and collection dates (indicating flight times) of N. facilis recorded in the museum collections, Notton believes that it parasitises hawk’s-beard mining bee (Andrena fulvago).
Notton has given the new bee the common name of hawk’s-beard nomad bee, and hopes that other museum curators will re-examine their Hymenoptera collections.
“I hope that people will look through old collections, and look out for them when they do fieldwork,” he says. “It would be nice to know it's not so rare.”
Main image: The solitary bee species has been added to the British list of bees. © David Notton/Trustees of the Natural History Museum, London