Photo Story: Ivy Bees

Posted on Posted in Budget Photography, Nature, Photo story
Right now, deep underground, millions of creatures are sleeping and growing. This includes a species which I photographed during mid-October of last year; the Ivy Bee.
ivy bee burrow
Evidence of freshly removed soil below the bee’s underground home.

What’s the link to Ivy? Well, these interesting insects like to burrow into the loose soil underneath it to make their nests. A single female will lay several eggs in separate chambers and spend the rest of her adult life gathering enough food for them to develop over the next year.

Autumn is the prime time to see them as this is the only time they are above ground all year! In around 6 weeks the offspring of last years eggs emerge, mate, make new chambers, lay their eggs and gather food – and the cycle continues.

Solitary bee
Unlike Honey bees, Ivy bees are solitary when it comes to looking after their eggs.


If you haven’t heard of Ivy bees before it’s probably because they are a very recent addition to Britain, having been first recorded in 2001. They are mostly found in the South and favour slopes that get lots of sun. The colony I photographed in October had chosen the perfect area which happened to be right next to the path leading up to a train station.


Pollen covered Ivy Bee
A pollen-covered Ivy Bee makes its way back to the burrow.

To get these shots I was practically lying on the pavement (looking very strange) using a 40mm macro lens, which meant I had to get very close! The light was starting to fade, and my proximity to the subject blocked any left when I chose certain angles. To combat this I used an LED macro  ring flash on the continuous strobe setting. I often prefer continuous lighting when it comes to wildlife as I find it easier to work out if the animal is bothered by it – and they tend not to be compared to constant, confusing flashing.


cleaning ivy bee
An Ivy bee has a quick clean after emerging from its burrow. Ivy bees only appear above the ground for about 6 weeks a year, so of course it’s worth putting some effort into appearances.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this Ivy Bee photo story. I still find it strange to think about how many people walk past these nests everyday with absolutely no knowledge of what’s going on right next to them. Then again, I also get a great feeling when I see these now insignificant-looking areas of earth and know what’s going on within. It’s like having X-Ray vision!


To get these shots I used:

Camera body: Nikon D7000

Lens: Nikon AF-S DX Micro NIKKOR 40mm f/2.8G Lens

Lighting: Neewer® FC100 LED Macro Ring Flash – an absolute bargain!

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