Northern colletes (Colletes floralis)

Northern colletes on flower
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Northern colletes fact file

Northern colletes description

GenusColletes (1)

This medium sized bee is mainly black, but has tawny red hairs covering the top of the thorax and paler hairs on the face (2) (4). The abdomen is black, but with narrow white bands of dense white hairs (4). The females are slightly larger than the males and have glossier, darker, and longer abdomens (2) (4).

Colletes montanus.
Head-body length: 8 – 15 mm (2)

Northern colletes biology

This bee is active from mid June to late August (2). Despite showing preferences for the pollen of certain plants, such as those in the parsley family (Apiaceae), the species in fact forages on a very broad range of plants that also includes Rubus, Thymus, Daucus, Eryngium and Jasione, and possibly even has the broadest pollen spectrum of any bee in its genus (4).

It is a solitary bee, meaning that it nests on its own, without a colony of workers. This bee nests in the ground, sealing the nest with soil. Whilst the bee is solitary, the females nest in local aggregations digging burrows 20 to 26 cm deep. They produce a secretion from glands in their mouths which they use to coat the inside of the burrow before laying their eggs in sealed cells. Each cell contains a food reserve comprised of regurgitated nectar and pollen that will feed the larva and then support the pupa through the winter while the bee develops. In June, the male bees emerge first and fly around the nests waiting for the females to emerge, and for the lifecycle to begin again (2).


Northern colletes range

This bee is scarcely but widely distributed across Europe (2), being known from the Atlantic fringes of Ireland, Scotland and northern England, southern Norway, and scattered in Sweden and Finland (4). Elsewhere, it is restricted to alpine habitats in central Europe, the Pyrenees and the Balkans (4). In the United Kingdom, it is present mainly on the western isles of Scotland, including the islands of the Outer Hebrides, as well as in Northern Ireland and on the Cumbrian coast (3) (4). It inhabits low altitudes in northern regions but mountainous regions further south (3). Whilst it is rare due to its restricted habitat preference, this solitary bee is known to be locally abundant at some sites (3).


Northern colletes habitat

On the Scottish island locations, it populates machair grasslands which have an abundance of flowers and are based on shelly soils (2). It appears to prefer nesting on gentle, southerly-facing slopes where vegetation is low and sparse, and is only active when warm (2).


Northern colletes status

This mining bee is classified as Rare in Great Britain, and is listed on the UK Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) list (3).


Northern colletes threats

This bee has a small UK population, restricted by the amount of very specific habitat it requires. A mixture of threats face the species, including habitat loss due to conversion to farmland, inappropriate grazing regimes, and climate change. The increasingly warm UK climate is a concern as this bee exists in a specific “climate envelope” (2) (3) (4).


Northern colletes conservation

Some nesting sites of this bee are within Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) and other reserves, giving them improved protection and the benefit of management plans (3). This species has a Species Action Plan (SAP) which encourages landowners and site managers with a population of northern colletes on their land to help protect the species. Research and surveys of the species and its range are planned to encourage the perseverance of current populations (3).

The UK Biodiversity Action Plan for this species is available at UK BAP.

Find out more

For more information see:

Royal Society for the protection of Birds – Biodiversity (September 2004):

UK Biodiversity Action Plan (September 2004):



Authenticated (13/02/2006) by Stuart Roberts, Chairman of the Bees, Wasps and Ants Recording Society,



In arthropods (crustaceans, insects and arachnids) the abdomen is the hind region of the body, which is usually segmented to a degree (but not visibly in most spiders). In crustacea (e.g. crabs) some of the limbs attach to the abdomen; in insects the limbs are attached to the thorax (the part of the body nearest to the head) and not the abdomen. In vertebrates the abdomen is the part of the body that contains the internal organs (except the heart and lungs).
Stage in an animal’s lifecycle after it hatches from the egg. Larvae are typically very different in appearance to adults; they are able to feed and move around but usually are unable to reproduce.
Stage in an insect’s development when huge changes occur, which reorganise the larval form into the adult form. In butterflies the pupa is also called a chrysalis.
Part of the body located near the head in animals. In insects, the three segments between the head and the abdomen, each of which has a pair of legs. In vertebrates the thorax contains the heart and the lungs.


  1. The National Biodiversity Network Species Dictionary (September, 2004)
  2. Royal Society for the protection of Birds – Biodiversity (September, 2004)
  3. UK Biodiversity Action Plan (September, 2004)
  4. Roberts, S. (2006) Pers. comm.

Image credit

Northern colletes on flower  
Northern colletes on flower

© Robin Wynde, RSPB

Robin Wynde


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