There are 18 species of bees in the Azores. These pollinators are an indispensable natural resource in agriculture and for a healthy ecosystem. In short, we need bees and we need a lot of them. The grounds of the estate were unloved or simple cattle grazing land. The only plus (amongst all the weeds and overgrown plants) was that it was an accidental paradise for wildlife, including bees. In the Azores, bees were first recorded in 16th century according to Marques (cited in Crane 1999: 219) “Beekeeping was started in 1554 (…), the bees probably being taken there from Portugal.”
Bees are essential to all the food we enjoy, but they are in steep decline. The bees in the Azores are similar in diversity to Madeira and Cape Verde, but 10 times lower than the Canary Islands. While we do not know the causes of this, it could be due to a lack of research or that the island has a high percentage of intensive farming and this has reduced bee numbers.
All bees found in the Azores are of European origin and are non-threatening or aggressive. Unless you threaten them they are highly unlikely to harm you.
On the estate we are passionate about helping the population recover and we are working on a number of initiatives. to welcome our stripey friends to the area. Our strategy is to look into how we can help them over a number of stages. These include:
- Understanding: What bees do we have and what plants do we have on the estate that they go for?
2. Environmental audit: and ensure we are not doing anything to harm the bees on the estate (not using any pesticides for example)
3. Understanding: What flowers can we plant on the estate to help the bees thrive that are not already here
4. Planting: We have a goal of 10,000 plants to grow and plant on the estate by 2025. We want to ensure floral diversity (just like humans, eating only one type of thing is not good for them)
5. On-going maintenance: Wildlife ponds, hives and natural resting spots to encourage bee diversity
No one thing will help the bees thrive on the estate, but we believe our approach will help us and the bees. In 2022 we plan to have our own hives so that we can harvest our own honey. We will of course be taking less than 1/3 that is produced. This would naturally go to waste in the hive and is not needed by the bees.
Bees you will find on the estate and in the Azores include:
- Bombus Latreille: Large, hairy, predominantly black, yellow- or white-banded eusocial bees
2. Bombus pratorum: Large black bee (wing length 13 mm in queens and 10 mm in workers and males), queens and workers with a bright yellow band on the thorax close to the head and orange tip of the abdomen
3. Azorean Bombus: Smallest bumblebee of the Azores and only bee species with orange tip of abdomen
4. Bombus ruderatus: Of the two bumblebee species in the archipelago, Bombus ruderatus is the paler species and can be recognized by the different colour pattern (two yellow bands on the thorax vs. one yellow thorax band in Bombus terrestris)
5. Bombus terrestris: In contrast to Bombus ruderatus, only one yellowish band on the thorax, which is deeper in colour than in the previous species
6. Colletes Latreille: Medium-sized bee (total length 10–13 mm in both sexes, wing length c. 8 mm in females) with orange brown hairy thorax and dark abdomen
7. Hylaeus Fabricius: All Azorean Hylaeus species are small black bees with whitish or yellow face patterns, the males with a mask-like pattern, the females usually with two dots
8. Hylaeus (Prosopis) azorae: Male with +/- rectangular yellowish face pattern, female unknown. Endemic to the Azores
9. Hylaeus (Prosopis) pictipes: Small black bee (wing length 3.5 mm, total length c. 5 mm) with elongate face, yellow face patterns, and black mandibles
10. Hylaeus signatus: Medium-sized black bee (total length 7–9 mm in both sexes, wing length 4.5–5.5 mm in females and 4–6 mm in males) with roundish face and conspicuous yellowish-white face markings, without curved grooves (fovea) along eye margin; mandibles and legs black
11. Halictus Latreille: All Azorean Halictus species are small brownish bees, often occurring in large numbers and nesting in the ground. Males are elongate bees with long antennae. Females of the genus can be recognized by a median furrow on the otherwise hairy tergite 5 near the tip of the abdomen and relatively short antennae
12. Halictus lativentris: mall, dark brown bee (total length 8–9 mm in both sexes, wing length 5,5–6 mm in females and 4,5–5,5 mm in males), with narrow bands of pale hair on the abdomen
13. Halictus malachurus: Small dark brown bee (total length 7–10 mm in both sexes, wing length 5,5–6,5 mm in females and 4,5–6,5 mm in males.) Males have black or extensively red abdomen, particularly long antennae and extensively yellow legs
14. Halictus minutissimus: Tiny blackish bee (total length c. 5 mm in both sexes, wing length 3,5–4 mm in females and 3–3,5 mm in males); males with entirely dark hind legs
15. Halictus morio: With Halictus smeathmanellus, one of the two small and greenish representatives of the genus in the Azores
16. Halictus smeathmanellus: Small black bee (wing length 4.5 mm in females and 4–4.5 mm in males), in the sun shining metallic green, scutum sparsely punctuated
17. Halictus villosulus: Medium-sized bee (total length 6–9 mm in females and 6–8 mm in males, wing length 4.5–5.5 mm in females and 4–4.5 mm in males)
18. Anthidium manicatum: Total length 11–12 mm in females and 14–18 mm in males, wing length 8–10 mm in females and 9,5–12 mm in males; wings dark, face and legs yellow, body black with yellow spots and bands, tergite 7 of males with five black spine-like extensions
19. Azorean Megachilidae: Both sexes with conspicuous yellow-black abdominal patterns; can be confused only with similar looking syrphid flies or species of wasps, especially the introduced Vespula germanica, but differs from all these taxa in flight behaviour and abdominal pollen collection (in females).
20. Megachile centuncularis: Medium-sized (total length 11–12 mm in females and 9–11 mm in males, wing length 7–8,5 mm in females and 7–8 mm in males) dark brown bees with yellowish hair and reddish abdominal pollen collecting brushes
21. Megachile concinna: Smallest of the leafcutter bees in the Azores (total length 9 mm in females and 7 mm in males). Strongly banded tergites, silvery-brown appearance. Females have a silvery pollen brush underneath the abdomen
22. Megachile pyrenaica: Medium-sized (total length 13–16 mm), dark, very hairy bees (Fig.
23. Osmia niveata: Small dark bee (total length 8–10 mm; wing length 7–8 mm in females and 6–7 mm in males) with conspicuous orange red pollen collecting brushes on the underside of the abdomen
24. Apis mellifera: Honeybees are larger than most wild bees in the islands (total length 11–13 mm in workers, 13–16 mm in males; wing length 9–10 mm in workers and 12–13,5 mm in males)
See more about the estate here.