The rare Tawny Mining Bee reappeared in Ireland as wildflowers thrived during lockdown. This extremely rare bee was thought to have gone extinct in Ireland 88 years ago.

Ireland has lost more than half the native species since the 1980s, and 30% are faced with extinction.  

It was a delightful surprise when the bright red-haired Tawny Mining Bee (Andrena fulva) was rediscovered in two locations in 2012—Kilkenny, near where it originally lived back in 1925 and a new location on the North Wicklow coast. In 2019 it was recorded in Dublin and Kildare counties for the first time ever.

The insect has been seen in record numbers during the lockdown of 2020 and since the onset of travel restrictions it was seen for the very first time in such counties as Down and Tipperary.

This 3:25-minute video by Mysterious World English shows some stunning footage of exotic Tawny Mining Bees:

This bright-colored bee is quite common in gardens and parks in England, Wales and central Scotland as well as in light woodlands and dry grasslands. It also lives in southern Scandinavia and the Balkans.

The Tawny Mining Bee is a spring species that usually is active March through June. It is a European species of the sand bee (Andrena) genus. This solitary and communal species nests in the ground and surrounds the entrance to its home with excavated soil in volcano-like mounds. 

The female is eye-catching with her bright fox-red hair on the dorsal surface of her thorax and abdomen and her head of black hair. Females are usually longer than males although in some places they are smaller.

In contrast, the male is nowhere near as interesting to behold, with scarcer golden-brown or reddish-brown hair and a slender body. He has a long white mustache-like set of hairs on his clypeus, the area of his face between his eyes and mouth, and a tooth on each mandible.

These bees only live for about a month once they emerge and are non-aggressive. Females will only sting if you harm or scare them, whereas males can’t sting. Tawny Mining Bees mate in spring when they emerge, and the male dies right after that as the female starts nest-building.  

These bees are fond of the nectar and pollen from a wide variety of flowers like dandelions, hawthorn, maple, buttercups, blackthorn, willows, holly, oak, beech, garlic mustard, gooseberry, plum, sallow, sycamore, wayfaring-trees and fruit trees.

Tawny Mining Bees and other solitary mining bees are threatened by the Large bee-fly (Bombylius major) that looks like a bumblebee. This parasitoid of Tawny Mining Bees, once mated, will hover in front of a Tawny Mining Bee nest cavity and flick its egg inside with the skill of a pro. The offspring hatches in the nest, devours the stored pollen and the young solitary bees.

Sometimes one hundred or more females build nests in a tight area a few square meters in size, but they do not create a colony. The vertical shaft of each nest is 8-12 inches deep and several brood cells branch off from it. She lays out ‘beds’ of nectar and pollen and lays an egg in each cell. It only takes a few days for the larva to hatch. They grow quickly and pupate within a few weeks. The adults emerge after hibernation ends in spring.

This bright, exquisite little bee barely lives for a month and reminds us of the beauty of nature we can find all around us.