Honey Bee

Honeybees are social insects; they live in a colony of many thousands of bees.  Each bee does a small proportion of the work needed to support the colony, whether that be nursing young bees, collecting food, or building and cleaning the hive. Of all the species of bees, just four are considered honeybees.  One of these, “Apis Mellifera” is kept and bred by beekeepers in the UK.

Honeybees collect nectar and pollen from flowering plants and trees for their food. From the nectar they produce honey, which is their main source of energy. The pollen is mainly used to provide the protein source that young bee larvae need to build their bodies.

Bumble Bee

Like honeybees, bumblebees are social insects, but they live in much smaller colonies, there may be less than 50 bees in a bumblebee colony. They are organised in a similar way to honeybees with a single queen for most of the year, and a group of female workers and male drones. Bumblebees typically live in nests in the ground, often holes that have been abandoned by mice and other rodents. They build their nest from wax secreted by the queen and by the workers. The wax “pots” that they construct are used to store small quantities of honey and as incubation chambers for the young larvae.

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Other Bees

There are over 250 species of bee found in the UK and you might see many of them without even realising you are even looking at a bee. Of these only one is a honeybee.  Other solitary bees do not live in colonies like honeybees or bumble bees and all females in the species are fertile. Some common bees you might see are described below.

Mason bees live in small holes in wood or masonry. They look quite small and sleek and are often blue or red in colour. They are good pollinators, so some vegetable and fruit gardeners provide nests made of drilled wood or thin cardboard tubes to encourage mason bees to set up home. Mason bees close off the holes that they nest in with plugs of mud, so if you set up nest for them you can tell when some have moved in. Although mason bees can sting, they are very gentle and must be handled extremely roughly to be provoked into doing so.

Mining and Mortar bees dig holes in dry firm ground or old masonry to use as nests. They look a little like smaller and less colourful bumblebees. Although mining bees are solitary, if they find a large area of good nest site, then they’ll often build lots of nests tightly packed in a close area, so you might see lots of them around the nesting site.

Carpenter bees tunnel holes into wood and can sometimes cause significant damage to property if allowed to build many nests close together. As such, they are less welcome around the garden and particularly the home. There are several variations in size and colour of carpenter bee, but in general they look a little like bumble bees but with a shiny hairless abdomen. Like mining bees, carpenter bees make several nests tightly packed into a small area. 

Wasp (often mistaken for bees)

There are several types of wasps, but this section is about the common wasps you’ll see trying to steal the sweet things from your picnic on late summer and autumn days. Wasps are social insects that live in papery nests that they construct from chewed wood. The nest is started in spring by a single queen, and then expanded by the worker wasps to sometimes reach the size of a football by the end of the year. The nest is abandoned at the end of the year.

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