New bee species within the London backyard are creating pleasure


Museum entomologist David Notton discovered an unknown male Nomada Facilis bee in his London garden last year, but has since discovered examples in the museum’s collection, which dates back at least 1802.

Back garden discovery

Notton, the museum’s chief curator for Hymenoptera, collected the first known British example of the new bee in May 2017. He says, “I grow British wildflowers in my garden to attract bees and I am always looking for visits.”

He identified the insect as the species Nomada Facilis, which was confirmed by DNA sequencing by Hannah Norman, a fellow scientist at the museum.

Since the bee was not known to live in the UK but to be found elsewhere in Europe, Notton checked the museum’s historical bee collection to see if there were any other specimens.


While reviewing the museum’s bees, Notton found previous examples of N. Facilis that had actually been collected in the UK. They had been mistakenly identified as closely related and similar looking species, Nomada integra.

Of these specimens, the earliest N. Facilis was collected shortly before 1802 and the last in 1950.

Says Notton, “This has shown that the bee lives long-term – albeit very rarely – in the UK and has not recently arrived.”

A cuckoo in the nest

Nomada Facilis belongs to a group called nomad bees, named for their migratory lifestyle. These bees do not build or maintain their own nests, but lay their eggs in the bee species’ nest.

First the nomad eggs hatch, then the larvae eat the pollen and nectar stores of their neighbors.

Different nomad bees target different types of mountain bees. Although Notton cannot be sure, he believes that N. Facilis in the UK is likely targeting the falcon’s whiskers’ mountain bee, Andrena fulvago.

Looking for more

This is the first time since 1950 that N. Facilis has been collected in the UK, suggesting that it is a very rare species that is likely to be in decline. One reason for this is that it is the equally rare mountain bee with a falcon’s beard.

Although N. Facilis is a parasite, according to Notton, humans shouldn’t be concerned about the effects it will have on the host.

He says, “A parasite will always be rarer than its host species, and the existence of a stable population of parasites is generally evidence that a host is fine. The best situation is a healthy population of both.

“Both species are also plant pollinators and therefore useful for biodiversity in the UK.”

He spreads his discovery in the hope that other examples of this kind can be found. “I hope people look through old collections and look for them while they are doing field work. It would be nice to know that it’s not that rare. ‘

A new name

Since the bee did not previously have a common name, Notton coined the name Falkenbart nomadic bee. It is named for the hawk-whisked wildflowers, which have small, yellow, daisy-like flowers that are preferred by many individual bees.

Many new species of insects have settled in the UK in recent years, aided by the warming climate and the importation of plants and other materials in which they live or nest. Notton recently found two more newcomers to London.

He says, “It is important to know what pollinating insects we have in the UK so we can monitor and understand the pollination of wildflowers and plants that ultimately feed us.”