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Bee Identification

How To Identify The Most Common Bee Species

There are many different species of Bees in the UK but we will only focus on the most common ones which people are most likely to come into contact with.

The difference in appearance between wasps and bees is: wasps appear smooth and bald whilst bees appear furry or fluffy. Take a look at the bee photos below.

Honey Bee

Honey Bee Identification

Honey bees although similar to wasps in appearance and size, are usually much darker in colour and have a fluffy Thorax.

Numbers of bees in a colony vary; small colonies may number a couple of thousand whereas a very large colony can be 50,000 individual bees.

There is a difference between a wild honey bee nest and a bee hive. A bee hive is a structure (normally made from wood) which a honey bees nest is contained in. The nest is artificially manipulated by the beekeeper so it can be managed easily.

A wild honey bees nest is as nature intended, being solely managed by the bees themselves.

Honey bees collect pollen which is visible on the bee's hind legs as they return to the nest. Honey bees also collect nectar which they store and turn into honey. They make and store a surplus of honey which they use over the winter months.

Genetics play an important role in the temperament of colony. Honey bees can sting and due to the numbers of individuals they can be the most dangerous of the bee species.

If you have had a honey bee swarm arrive, please look at our honey bee swarm collectors page to find your local swarm collector.

If you have an established honey bee colony living inside your property, please look at our bee removal page to see what can be done.

Bumble Bee

Bumble Bee Identification

Bumble bees are black, round and very fluffy. There are several different species of bumble bees varying in size. The numbers of Bumble Bees in a colony are quite small; generally between 50 - 100 individuals.

Bumble bees collect pollen which they feed to their young. Bumble bees do make a small amount honey; just enough to feed themselves through the summer.

The three most common bumble bees are:
  • White tail Bumble bee (Bombus lucorum). These are large bumble bees and as their name suggests, they have a white bum. Generally these bees are very placid and only sting in self defence.
  • Garden Bumble bee (Bombus hortorum). Similar to the white tail bumble bee in appearance.
  • Tree Bumble bee (Bombus hypnorum). These are smaller than the white tail bumble bee. They are relatively new to the UK. They appear to be bolder than the other bumble bees and will defend their nests aggressively. They prefer to nest in higher locations such as roofs and bird boxes.

Bumble Bees can sting if provoked, but generally they very good natured and if left alone will go about their business and will not interfere with anyone.

If you have a Bumble Bee nest and it is located in an awkward situation, some pest controllers and beekeepers are prepared to remove and re home them for a small fee. Contact your local pest controller for further advice.

Harmless Bee Species.

Other Bees which are often encountered are Mining Bees and Masonry Bees. Both types are harmless and cannot physically sting people. They do have a sting but it is not strong enough to penetrate human skin.

Mining and Masonry bees are solitary bees (they live on their own) apart from when they are mating at which time they can muster quite high numbers although generally less than 100 individuals. We do not recommend destroying either species.

Grey Mining Bee

Mining Bee identification

Tawny Mining Bee

Tawny Mining Bee

Mining Bees burrow into the ground to lay their eggs. They make a hole similar to a worm hole with a heap of soil at the top of the hole. They are present in the spring time and will only stay for a few weeks. Once their eggs have been laid they will disappear.

Mason Bee

Mason Bee Identification

Mason Bees, also known as masonry bees (often mistaken for wasps in the spring time) burrow into soft mortar in brickwork. They also use the new plastic mortar vents which are installed in modern houses. They pack these holes with mud and pollen and then lay eggs. They are active in the spring for around a month. Once they have laid eggs, they will disappear.

If you have Masonry Bees burrowing into your brickwork, you need to have the brickwork re-pointed.

Are Bees dangerous?

The simple answer to this question is: Bees that sting can be dangerous to people that are allergic or to anyone that receives enough stings.

The two main species of Bee which can sting are Honey Bees and Bumble Bees.

Honey Bees can be highly dangerous simply due to the number of individual Bees in a colony.

Sadly each year a few people (mostly Beekeepers) are killed by Honey Bees. Normally Bees which are kept in Hives are reasonably well tempered but occasionally, for various reasons, they can become highly aggressive and will attack anything that ventures near to their nest or hive.