Spring is here and so are the Hairy Footed Flower Bees!

At last there has been sun and warmth. It has felt a long time coming, but over these last few weeks I have been able to snatch a minute or two to appreciate the beauty of spring, the light green mist of new shoots on the bare branches and the sumptuous snowy flower laden branches of the blackthorn.

I have been able to bring armfuls of white sheets in from the line, smelling of sun and light ( a rare thing to do in the USA) and at last, I have seen more bees.

Male hairy footed flower bees everywhere! Just everywhere. What a huge pleasure it is for me to be able to see them whizzing about. They have a very distinctive high pitched sound and adopt a very characteristic pose when resting on a leaf or stone, their gorgeously fringed legs outspread to the side.

Anthophora plumipes male on the elaeagnus.

I stood for an hour watching them. The only chance I had to photograph them was when they paused to rest on the elaeagnus. They seemed to love the big flat sunny leaves but only stopped for a very short time before rushing off again chasing each other round and round the bush.

They are not easy to catch with my slow camera and slower operator! What I did notice was how they would check me out, hovering just inches above my head, looking directly at me. before whizzing off again. You can see their yellow faces. Really quite delightful!

And today in the village on some pink pulmonaria, I saw the females, smart little black bombs with ginger legs. Chris took a couple of long shots and managed to catch this little bee with her extraordinarily long tongue unfurled. Interestingly she seems to be holding her tongue with her front legs.. as if steadying her aim and approach.

HFFB tongue

And landed, head in a flower


Spring is truly here. The evenings are light and blackbirds fill the dawn with song.

Hairy Footed Flower Bee.. yet again..Vive la Difference!

To have the Hairy Footed Flower bee  Anthophora plumipes in the set of British Bees and not include those hairy feet would be just confusing, so here is the male, resplendent with those long silky  hairs on his middle leg.

I first described this chunky little bee with his roman nose and big blue eyes back in November for Deborah’s bee set here. This one is to be the companion to the stylish black female which I have already painted ( see here and below).
This is the only species of bee so far where I have drawn both the male and female and they couldn’t be more different. She is black with orange legs and he is brownish with the yellow face roman nose and of course the long hairs which the female does not have.

hhfb sm    hairy footed flower beesm

Female and Male Anthophora plumipes.

Why some male and female bees are so very different in colour I do not know. I have tried to find out, but without much success so I hope to get some answers when I meet up with bee specialists in June. I did read something that seemed to infer an ingenious plan on the part of flowers to aid their own pollination.
The variation  between male and female is referred to a sexual dimorphism, with the colour pattern difference specifically called sexual dichromatism.
There are quite a few bees who fall into this category. One of the most striking must be the stunning USA Valley Carpenter Bee, Xylocopa varipuncta, whose male is a huge furry teddy bear of a bee  and whose female is black and shiny.

MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA     587px-Valleycarpenterbee2 T

he Valley Carpenter bee male and female from Wiki photographer Calibas A UK bee is Andrena fulva  where the female is the showy one.

8883967_d98b94c5a3_o     Andrena_fulva01

Male Photo Nigel Jones from Tree Of Life  and female,  photo Jeffdelonge Wiki

It all goes to make bee identification more fascinating and just a little bit more tricky!

Flowers for the Flower bee In the UK you can find the Hairy Footed Flower Bee hanging around the labiates (the dead nettles).
The males will be waiting for females to show up and  the hairy feet, if you are wondering, are thought to be something to do with courtship, read more here.
Blackbird in her excellent blog has some wonderful photos and HFFB  observations here and a great piece about which flowers to plant to  attract these really delightful bees here, which include Comfrey, Tree Germander, Primroses, Rosemary, Grape Hyacinths and Cowslips.

I have provided my bee with a leaf of the beautiful Yellow Archangel for his female-spotting platform..


Hairy Footed Flower Bee Anthophora plumipes and Yellow Archangel Lamiastrum galeobdolon Mint Family.

flowerbee sm

Watercolour and pencil on Arches HP approx 8 x 8 inches

Anthophora plumipes. More Hairy Footing in the Spring Garden.

I am revisiting the delightful Hairy Footed Flower Bee, Anthophora plumipes which I drew before back in November here. I wrote quite a bit about these funny little bees then and so won’t repeat myself, but here from the Natural History Museum identification sheet is a nice short description

“Large, long-tongued species resembling a small bumblebee; body length 14-17 mm. Female has body hair entirely black, outer surface of hind leg with golden hairs; body hair of male mainly a rich brown (face bright yellow). Common in gardens where it mainly visits deep-throated flowers. Cell walls consist of a conglomeration of fine particles of soil or mortar which are probably bound together by a secretion from an abdominal gland. This bee flies, with a shrill hum, from mid March to the end of May, rarely June. It is distributed throughout much of England and Wales (especially in the south); absent Scotland and Ireland.”

My real dilemma was which one to draw, the male or the female. I drew the male before because he is the one with the bizarre and wonderful feathery feet, lovely yellow markings on the face and a Roman nose. Below is a photo of the male, you can see the feathers on his front legs.


Male Anthophora plumipes , Photo Cosmin Manci from Shutterstock.com

The female could not be more different, they are mostly black and shaped like a little bomb. But they are really super sweet, whizzing around with their bright, ginger coloured legs.
They are early bees and so can be seen foraging on primroses, and a absolute favourite spring flower of mine, cowslips.

Here is a great photo from Brian Stones blog, The Natural Stone. In the post “Plenty in the Garden” from April 2005 a little female Anthophora is making, just as you would expect, a beeline, for the cowslips. This post also has two lovely frogs.. I do hope one day I get to paint some frogs .. Brian’s blog is full of wonderful photos and observations, I did particularly like the delightful bee flies here.


The Anthophora bees also like lungworts,or pulmonarias which have the same long tubular shaped flowers as the cowslips, whose deeply hidden nectar is easy for these long tongued species to access.


Beautiful pink and violet Pulmonaria, photo from “Sad” at Shutterstock here

If you would like to attract these super bees to your garden do go and read Blackbird’s post Flower Bee Garden.. April 2009 from her excellent Bugblog which I quoted from on the last post.

You will find a list of flowers that will have Hairy Footed Flower bees frolicking in your garden. What could be nicer?


The Painting

I just couldn’t decide between the wonderful spotted leaves of the lungworts or my favourite cowslips.

antho sketch

I left it, until I had no more time to decide and went for the cowslip flowers. The spotted leaves might just have been a bit too busy and distracting…. but I might just have to paint that little male bee again, perhaps displaying those lovely hairy feet on a nice spotted Pulmonaria leaf.

anthph sketch


Anthophora plumipes, The Female Hairy Footed Flower Bee and Cowslip.


I know the scientists may shrink in horror at the description, but this bee is just “too cute” for words!!
Watercolour and Pencil on Arches HP .. size approx 7×7 inches.

The Hairy Footed Flower Bee.. yes really..

If ever a bee belonged in the world of the fairies this is it. The amazing Hairy Footed Flower Bee. I have painted the male, with its plumed feathery feet, its Roman nose and its equally endearing Latin name, Anthophora plumipes.

I had not really given much thought to bees’ feet before I started this project but they are wonderful things. See the plumes on the second leg..


photo by Jeffdelonge for Wikipedia here

Anthophora is another large bee genus with over 450 species worldwide. They vary enormously. Some are known as digger or mason bees and make wonderful elaborate homes with mud.
This particular species is an early April bee and particularly long tongued, so able to make the most of tubular flowers such as the spring-flowering Lungwort, Pulmonaria, Comfrey, Symphytum, Cowslips, and the dead nettle family Lamium.

Adrian Knowles, Hymenoptera Recorder for the Suffolk Nature Society has this to say:

“At about 13mm long they are a little smaller than most bumblebees and they fly with very quick wings in a swift and darting flight, frequently hovering in front of flowers and so have a rather different “jizz” to their larger relatives. They are perhaps more reminiscent of rotund hairy hoverflies in their behaviour.
They nest in tunnels excavated in steep, dry soil banks and .occasionally within the crumbling mortar of old masonry, as do several other solitary bees.
Amazingly, they emerge from their pupae in late summer but remain in their sealed nest cells until the following spring – about 6 months spent as an adult just standing still!
The females are all black, with yellow/orange hairs on her hind legs (you may need to look carefully to avoid confusion with bees bearing yellow pollen on their hind legs).
The males are strikingly different, with dark orange/brown hairs towards the front of their bodies, giving way to black hairs anteriorly. “ ………
not forgetting those hairy feet!

from Suffolk’ s Box Valley (UK) Nature Website here which will also take you to some interesting books on Suffolk’s Natural History.

The reason for the extravagant hairiness is, of course all to do courtship.
If you are a female Hairy Footed Flower Bee (but without the hairy feet as the females don’t have them), I guess you will appreciate the tender ministrations of your beau as he wafts his hairy feet over your antennae, transferring his own brand of irresistible aftershave as he does.
It’s not quite my idea of romance, but then I am not a bee …yet. Gordon Ramel of the excellent Gordon’s Solitary Bee Pages has another theory …
As the females are notoriously skittish, it is possible that the male covers his mate’s eyes with those hairy feet to calm her down, (or to knock her out with that aftershave)
He tells us more about this game little bee

“The males are territorial and tend to guard a home range which contains either, the sorts of flowers the females like to visit, or a site suitable for nesting.
The male patrols around his home range spending time at each patch of flowers and or nest site chasing off intruders. He is very serious about this and defends his chosen resources from all comers whether they are a competing male bee or not.
To drive intruders away from his range he accelerates straight at them very quickly and rams them with his head, he can knock out insects much larger than himself this way”

You will also find links to some very good illustrations on this page, and Gordon’s Earthlife site is fun and informative and about much more than just bees.

Here is a photo of the lovely black female Hairy Footed Flower Bee with her orange coloured back legs..

a plumipes female

The gorgeous female HFFB by rybaros from a Polish entomological site which has excellent insect photos here

This particular species Anthophora plumipes, is most common in the Europe but according to the excellent Discover Life site, after introduction in Maryland they can now be found throughout the Washington DC region.

Look out for them if you live in this area. I spent far too long researching and reading about these bees. Sometimes it takes a long time to collect even a small amount of accurate information. I am going to put a list of useful bee sites on the sidebar soon.

However deciding how to draw this bee was not too difficult. Of course I had to include the feet, that Roman nose and it does have lovely big eyes. I am also getting a little more familiar with bee anatomy so I made a couple of quick sketches just to get the pose right and then got on with the painting.


anthophora sketches2


Bee No 9: The Hairy Footed Flower Bee, Anthophora plumipes

hairy footed flower beesm