Bee Species

Know your bees! All that buzzes does not produce honey.

Bumblebees

There are around twenty species of bumblebees in the UK, ranging from very large to quite tiny. Bumblebees typically live in smaller colonies of between 200 and 1000 bees and can often be found in compost heaps and holes in the ground. Bumblebees are very docile and only sting when provoked, such as when being handled or stepped on. Their sting tends to be mild compared to a honey bee or wasp.

A bumble bee foraging

A bumblebee collecting nectar and pollen from a Borage flower.

  • Bumblebees are not at all aggressive and, provided their colony is not dangerously positioned, can usually be safely ignored.
  • Bumblebee colonies die out in the Autumn and the queen bees find nooks and crannies to hibernate in for the winter. In spring they emerge and set up new colonies.
  • Bumblebees have no particular tendencies to reuse old colonies, unlike honey bees.
  • Bumblebees are a very delicate indicator species – having plenty in your garden is a sign of a health and bio-diverse environment.
  • Like honeybees, bumblebees are vulnerable to some kinds of agriculture chemicals which has led to reduced numbers in the wild.

If you have a bumblebee colony I would encourage you to admire and respect them for the short few months they will be with you. They will work diligently spreading pollen from flower to flower, helping fruit set properly.

Wasps

Wasps give honeybees and bumblebees a bad name. They hang around your picnic searching for anything edible and they slip inside your can of soft drink while you are not paying attention. I’m sure most people have experienced the sting and are rightly apprehensive about having a busy, active colony in the vicinity.

Wasp in flight

The sleek body and bright yellow colour of a wasp

While I don’t like using pesticides generally, a dangerously located wasp nest can merit drastic action. Depending on the location non-toxic carbon dioxide gas can be used.

  • Wasps use a nest for a single year then abandon it. The queen wasps hibernate and form new colonies the following year.
  • Wasp nests are made of paper. The wasps scrape thin layers off wood and sculpt their papery nest from it.
  • The scraping noise they make when removing wood is very distinctive and surprisingly loud!
  • A large colony can reach the size of a beachball before being abandoned.
  • Wasps have a needle like sting and an angry wasp can sting multiple times in quick succession.
  • There are hundreds of different species of wasps, many of them are very beneficial in nature. They kill and eat caterpillars and other bugs and help control some pest species.
  • Simple wasp traps  can be made which will reduce the number of wasps you find buzzing around your picnic table without needing to kill the colony.

If you must kill a wasp colony try to make sure you can directly reach the papery colony – not just the entrance.

The honey bee

Part of the confusion that can arise when looking at bees is due to the wide variety shown by honeybees. They can vary in size considerably (wild bees are smaller than domestic bees) and colour can shade from very dark to pale yellow. These are essentially “families” of the same bee species and the different families have been spread around the world by beekeepers selecting for bees with certain genetic traits. Native purebreed honey bees are now nearly unheard of in the UK as their genes have been mixed with imports from New Zealand, Russia, China and America to name just a few.

Black Queen

This very dark queen bee has dark coloured offspring. This particular bee has been marked with a white spot to make her easier to identify in the hive.

dark bees

Dark amber coloured bees, resting on uncapped honeycomb.

yellow bees

These bees have lighter yellow stripes, alternating with the black. They could be mistaken for wasps.

Honey bee behaviour is very strongly determined by genetics of the queen bee. Some colonies are habitually docile, while others can be very aggressive towards humans and other animals in “their” space.

If you have a bee colony that you would like removing please use the contact form on the “services” page.

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