These incredible insects are so important to the eco system and we shouldn’t underestimate them; a third of the food we eat relies on the pollination work of bees. Without them it would be much more difficult to get a lot of the food we like on to our plates.
Now we all recognise those fantastic, fluffy bumblebees we see buzzing merrily over our flowers in the summer months. However, not all bees are made the same and in fact bumblebees only make up a very small proportion of our striped friends.
Let us explain a bit more about the different types of bees and some tips on how to recognise them.
Types of bees in the UK
Amazingly, there are actually 20,000 different species of bee around the world. That’s a lot of buzzing.
We have roughly 270 different types of bees here in the UK. Of this, only 24 of these species are bumblebees and astonishingly we only have one type of honeybee. The rest are made up of solitary bees.
Not sure which is which? Our bee identification guide will help.
You’ll find bumblebees living in a whole host of places such as abandoned rodent holes, compost heaps or even nesting under your shed!
These bees are instantly recognisable for their large, fluffy looking bodies with yellow and black stripes. Some species appear as early as March and as late as the autumn months. The most common species in this group include garden, buff-tailed, white-tailed, early and common carder.
Here are some facts about bumblebees:
They do collect nectar which they use for food but unlike honeybees they don’t really convert it into honey.
They have really fast metabolisms and have to eat constantly and are only ever 40 minutes away from starvation. A good reason to provide them with plenty of flowers.
They are masters at pollinating plants and fruit trees and have a super clever trick up their sleeves. Bumblebees can contract their flight muscles to produce a strong vibration that forces even the most stubborn of flower to release its pollen in an explosion. The bee then hoovers this up on its fur. It’s known as buzz pollination.
They beat their wings up to 200 times a second. That’s pretty fast when you consider a hummingbird can only manage about 50 flaps a second.
Forget the idea that bees only sting once and then die. Bumblebees can sting repeatedly. Don’t worry, they are incredibly friendly and don’t really want to bother us as long as we leave them alone.
They have smelly footprints which helps them to distinguish the scent of a relative and that of a stranger. It helps in their success to find food.
Amazingly, honeybees do not hibernate and keep their colony going all year round. However, to help them survive when winter arrives they reduce the size of the colony (aka they kick out the males).
Honeybees are smaller than bumblebees with black and amber coloured stripes and you'll find them buzzing around when the spring weather arrives, all the way through to October. Despite working so hard to make all that honey, these bees aren’t actually the best pollinators. This is down to the fact they have a short tongue and need open flowers to get to the pollen. If you want to help them out, plant some sunflowers, michaelmas daisies or heathers which have easy-to-reach pollen.
Here are some fun facts about honeybees:
When they return to the hive, honeybees do a little dance for their friends called the waggle dance. It’s not just for show either, the dance communicates with the hive on where to find the best food.
Honey bees fly around 55,000 miles to make just one pound of honey – that’s over twice around the world.
Honey bees are pretty good at flying. They can go at speeds of up to 20mph when out looking for food.
The forager bees fly as far as three miles away from the hive to find food.
They don’t sleep - ever!! They will remain motionless to preserve their energy but that’s all.
These bees can see colour and they particularly like blue and purple but they can’t see red. Good to know when planting flowers to help out the bees.
As their name suggests, they don’t live in large colonies and prefer to be alone. They’re resourceful too and quite happily build in a nest in all sorts of nooks and crannies. The female solitary bee will mate with the male and then build her nest and lay her eggs. She then seals everything up ready for the new bees to emerge the following year.
Some of the most common solitary groups are mining, leafcutter, mason, sweat, wool-carding and carpenter bees.
Here’s some facts about solitary bees:
They have a frantic life and only live for about six weeks.
Most solitary bees nest in the ground and the female will dig out her own nest. She then heads out to collect pollen to line the nest. She then lays an egg in each chamber and seals everything up.
You can normally tell which bee has made their nest by the materials they use. Mason bees used mud, leaf cutters use leaves and wool carder prefer fine plant hairs.
A female solitary bee will lay up to 30 eggs during her lifetime
This lot aren’t aggressive and the females will only sting in extreme circumstances. The males don’t usually have a sting.
Here's some fun facts about mason bees:
- It has been estimated that the pollination work of a single mason bee is equivalent to the work by 120 worker honeybees.
- These are some of the first solitary bees to appear in the year
- Females tend to nest close to where they emerge
Here are some mining bee facts for you:
They are the largest group in the solitary species with around 67 different types of mining bees.
Each mining bee home is unique to the owner (even though they all look the same from the outside).
Even though they are solitary, mining bees occur in a bit of commune style by living in the same location, they are closely related and share resources including food locations.
Wasp, bee or hornet?
So, one of our little yellow and black striped friends has come buzzing into your living room. Is it a wasp, a bee or a hornet? How on earth can you tell the difference? They certainly look similar but there are some key differences. If you dare to look close enough, we'll help you to identify which is which!
Let’s start with the wasps.
Next, how to spot a hornet
Now, onto the bees.
What to do if you find a bee in your home
The first thing to remember is that the bee doesn’t want to be there. No doubt you’ll hear them frantically buzzing against the window pane before you even see them.
Letting them escape as quickly as possible is a priority so they don’t end up exhausted. If your bee looks like it’s in trouble, here’s some essential first aid tips for bees.
If the bee is still flying around, open a window and gently persuade the bee to find a way out. If it’s not flying, it’s probably tired. Place a glass on top and very carefully slide some thin card underneath, be careful not to damage its legs. Move it outside but leave a mixture of sugar and water on the ground so the bee can revive itself.