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By: Damian Carrington

New bee arrives for first time in the UK

Brexit may have caused an anti-immigration buzz but a traveller from the continent has made the UK its new home: the viper’s bugloss mason bee.

The bee is common in the UK’s European neighbors but has been discovered for the first time in this country, in a small park in Greenwich, London.

“I always have half an eye open, but I certainly didn’t expect that,” said David Notton, an insect expert at the Natural History Museum, who made the discovery in June. “It’s quite a big bee, so, if it was new, I thought someone else would have already spotted it.”

DNA tests confirmed the identity of the bee – Hoplitis adunca – and Notton gave it a common name based on the plant it exclusively feeds on, a blue-flowering plant in the borage family called viper’s bugloss.

Mason bees are solitary insects which nest in hollows in wood or plant stems and use mud to make walled compartments for their eggs. About 50 viper’s bugloss mason bees are now in Greenwich, making use of nesting boxes in the park provided by the Land Trust.

The viper’s bugloss mason bee is an expert traveler, because it can nest in holes in vehicles and freight, and Notton said that was a likely way it had arrived in London.

But he does not expect it to become widespread in the UK: “It needs a hot microclimate and it is at the edge of its [temperature] range” in southern England. However, he said places such as Dungeness, Rye and Salisbury Plain, where viper’s bugloss is common, could be settled by the bee in future.

Notton has also recently discovered a new-to-the-UK digger wasp and spider wasp, with the academic papers confirming the finds due soon. “It’s been a very good year,” he said.

The UK hosts 270 different types of bee, but only about half-a-dozen new species have been found in the last half-century. “But there are a lot of new insects turning up at the moment due to the globalisation of transport and possibly due to climate change making the UK warmer.” The arrival of one unwelcome new immigrant, the Asian hornet, which preys on honeybees, was confirmed in September.

The viper’s bugloss mason bee joins about 80 species of bee in the Greenwich park, but Notton said the situation is mixed for bees across Britain: “Some bee species are doing OK, while others are struggling, with habitat change, climate change and pesticides all impacting the environment.”

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