‘Witch bee’ riding tiny broomstick to feature in Attenborough’s Wild Isles

A bee that seems to be riding a tiny broomstick will be among the creatures to feature in Sir David Attenborough’s Wild Isles BBC series on Sunday.

In the third episode of the five-part-series, viewers can take a closer look at grassland habitats and many of its inhabitants, including the mason bee.

The insect is fondly referred to by the film crew as the “witch bee” as it appears as though it is riding a miniature broomstick as it flies with grass stalks with which to make a nest.

Filmed in Dorset, the female two-coloured mason bee nests in disused snail shells that she then conceals with the dry grass stalks she collects.

The crew enlisted the help of an entomologist and used a macro lens to effectively capture the bee’s behaviour as she collected up to 100 sticks of grass for her nest.

The series producer, Nicholas Gates, said: “Like Goldilocks with her porridge testing, the female two-coloured mason bee will check lots of empty shells in the grassland, some are too big, some are too small or damaged, until she finds just the right one within which to lay her egg.

“She is nicknamed the ‘witch bee’ as after laying each egg she seals up the shell and then hides it under a pile of tiny sticks.

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“She collects each stick individually and carries it, as she flies, under her body and looks like she is riding a tiny broom.”

Elsewhere in the episode, Attenborough looks at the behaviour of a killer caterpillar that uses methods of deception to find its food before emerging as a large blue butterfly.

The large blue butterfly, previously extinct in the UK, was reintroduced to the British Isles, which are now believed to be home to one of the largest concentrations of the species in the world.

The sequence, which was filmed over three years, marks the first time the species’ lifecycle has been captured on video in full. Alastair MacEwen, a Wild Isles cameraman, said: “This butterfly went extinct in the UK because of changes to its habitat, a familiar and sad tale of our times.

“However, the making of Wild Isles has coincided with remarkable conservation success.

“Through careful scientific management, the butterfly has been brought back and can be seen once more in British meadows, giving us a glimmer of hope for the future.”

Other significant moments from the episode include boxing hares filmed in Suffolk, mating adders in Northumberland and wild horses in Cambridgeshire and on Salisbury Plain.

Episode Three: Grasslands will air on BBC One and iPlayer on Sunday at 7pm.