Entomology (Study of Bugs)/Multi coloured bees

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Question
Hi I live in England, in Yorkshire and we now have 3 varieties of what i believe to be bees in my garden.

We have normal yellow and black bees.
Red and black bees with varying amounts of black and red on them, one was entirely black except for a red dot on its back Ive even seen one that was completely black
We also have black and white bees but they didnt look like the col0oured photos ive found, I think ive figured out which ones they are from the black and white pic and description on another site but cant find anything about red and black bees.
Also we had a thing this morning that looked like a bee but clearly wasnt.  yellow and black but sleeker than a bee and fatter than a wasp.  It had a very long feeding antenna.  It seemed to be attacking the other flying insects, especially the yellow and black bees
If you can help me figure out what is going on in my garden i would be very apreciative.

Also I have seen some of the yellow and black bees with orange blobs on their black legs.  I didnt know if they had picked it up from a flower or if it was a fungus or something else entirely and was slightly worried about them to be honest.  If you could explain this again i would be very apreciative.

Thanks
Yared

Answer
Yared:

Whoa, whoa, whoa, that's about five or six questions there:-)  LOL!  I'm happy you are observant and excited by what you are seeing.  I shall now try to make some sense out of it....

First, many solitary bee species are variable in color from individual to individual, and as they age the wear and tear can be extensive, too, resulting in bald patches that are normally hairy, and tattered wings.  So, please take those factors into account.

The 'thing this morning' might be a moth, perhaps a hornet moth, Sesia apiformis, or one of the sphinx moths like the hummingbird hawkmoth, Macroglossum stellatarum.  Both have a long, flexible proboscis that is coiled under the 'chin' when not in use.  Another alternative is a "bee fly," family Bombyliidae which, as the name implies, are also superb mimics of bees.  Many species sport a long, fixed, needle-like proboscis they use to sip nectar.  Your answer is most likely going to be one of those two:  moth or bee fly.

The bees with the orange blobs on their legs are going to be bumble bees, genus Bombus.  The blobs are loads of pollen and nectar that they pack into their "pollen baskets."  The hind legs of worker bumble bees are flattened, and fringed with long hairs used to trap those balls of "bee bread."  Full pollen baskets are very conspicuous, as they got your own attention!  Most solitary bees collect nectar in their "crops," internal organs from which they regurgitate the fluid back at the nest.  They collect dry pollen in a brush of long hairs called a "scopa."  The scopa may be on the hind legs (usually) or on the underside of the abdomen (most bees of the family Megachilidae) or absent altogether (parasitic bees like Nomada and Sphecodes).

Hope that all this answers at least some of your questions.  They are all very 'good' questions, I might add, reflecting well on your observational skills and intellect.  Keep up the great work.

Eric R. Eaton
author, "Kaufman Field Guide to Insects of North America"
http://community.webtv.net/bugeric/BugEric

Entomology (Study of Bugs)

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Eric R. Eaton

Expertise

I answer insect and spider identification questions ONLY. Attach images if possible. No "what bit me?", "what do I feed this bug in captivity?", or science fair project questions please. NO TECHNICAL QUESTIONS ABOUT INSECT PHYSIOLOGY.

Experience

Principal author, Kaufman Field Guide to Insects of North America. Professional entomologist employed previously at University of Massachusetts, Chase Studio, Inc., and Cincinnati Zoo; contract work for West Virginia Department of Natural Resources, Smithsonian Institution, and Portland (Oregon) State University.

Publications
Author, Kaufman Field Guide to Insects of North America, Missouri Conservationist magazine, Ranger Rick, Birds & Blooms, Timeline (journal of the Ohio Historical Society). I have contributed to several books as well.

Education/Credentials
Oregon State University, undergraduate major in entomology, did not receive degree.

Awards and Honors
One of the top 50 experts in all categories for AllExperts.com, 2009.

Past/Present Clients
Principal author of the Kaufman Field Guide to Insects of North America, Smithsonian Institution (contract), Cincinnati Zoo (employer), Portland State University (contract), Chase Studio, Inc (employer), Arkansas Museum of Discovery (guest speaker). Currently seeking speaking engagements, leadership roles at nature festivals, workshops, and ecotours.

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