Northern Ireland's Priority Species

Colletes floralis – northern colletes

Colletes floralis

Colletes floralis Eversmann 1852
Family: Colletidae

The northern colletes is a solitary bee, meaning that a single female constructs and provisions a nest. It is the only bee species which is more widespread in Ireland than in Britain.

In brief

  • Found on the dunes on the north coast in Antrim and Londonderry and possibly also on the east coast

  • Nest aggregations have been found in gently sloping or flat ground in dry dune slacks

  • Females are active in the summer months from June to August

  • This is a rare species in Europe and some of the largest populations appear to be in Britain and Ireland

  • It is listed as a UK Priority Species

  • The species is threatened by loss of breeding and feeding habitat

  • There are several similar related bees in Ireland, and field identification is difficult

  • The species was recorded in 2003, the first Northern Ireland record for 70 years.

Species description
Colletes bees are medium-sized, rather slender bees. The abdomen is black with a narrow white band on each segment. The upper side of the thorax and the face are clothed in fox-coloured hairs. Males and females are similar in appearance.

Life cycle
Adults of the northern colletes are active from mid-June to late August. The male bees emerge first a day or two before the females. The females are probably mated soon after emergence. The male then dies and the mated female constructs a nest burrow. Within the burrow, the female makes individual cells each provisioned with nectar and pollen and in which she lays a single egg. Females will tend to lay in proximity to others, so nest aggregations are formed. The larvae feed on the provisioned food before pupating the next year.

Similar species
There are several Colletes species in Ireland and identification requires specialist knowledge. Microscopic examination is needed to confirm identity where more than one species may coexist in an area.

How to see this species
Adults can be seen on coastal sites in gently sloping or flat ground in dry dune slacks, in June, July and August, although the precise phenology in Northern Ireland is unknown. Nest aggregations are identifiable by the presence of holes which in suitable weather will have adults flying in and out. However there are many species of ground-nesting solitary bee and several species may construct their nests in the same place. Relevant access permissions should always be sought prior to visiting any sites.

Current status
Nest aggregations were found at four sites on the north coast at Ballymaclary, Portstewart, White Park Bay and Bushfoot during a dedicated survey in 2003. These were the first Northern Ireland records since 1933, when it was found at Portballintrae. The species was also confirmed present at the Umbra in 2004. The largest populations found in 2003 were at Ballymaclary and Portstewart. None were seen at Portballintrae where there is no longer any suitable habitat. The species has never been seen on the east coast at Murlough and Killard Point, although suitable habitat exists, and it is widespread on east coast of Ireland as far north as County Louth.

Why is this species a priority in Northern Ireland?

  • Listed as a UK Priority Species.

Britain and Ireland together are thought to hold a significant proportion of the global population.

Threats/Causes of decline
The principal threats to this species are from loss of forage areas and nesting sites. These must be in close proximity (<500m).

Conservation of this species

Current action
There is a UK Species Action Plan for this species which was published in 1999.

  • All the known sites are within NNRs or ASSIs, apart from Bushfoot dunes. Ballymaclary and the Umbra are part of a SAC

  • Implementation of the Northern Ireland Habitat Action Plan for Coastal Sand Dunes.

Proposed objectives/actions

  • Maintain populations at all known sites.

What you can do
If you see the species, report any sightings to CEDaR, National Museums Northern Ireland, 153 Bangor Road, Cultra, Co. Down, BT18 0EU, Tel: 028 9039 5256, [at] or to the Bees, Wasps and Ants Recording Scheme (BWARS) who organise the recording of solitary bees in Britain and Ireland.

Further information



Northern Ireland Habitat Action Plans

Sears, J. and Hunter, J.M. (2005). The re-discovery of the rare mining bee Colletes floralis Eversmann 1852, in Northern Ireland in 2003. Irish Naturalistsí Journal 28: 53-58.

Text written by:
Dr Brian Nelson, Curator of Freshwater Invertebrates, Ulster Museum