Bumble bees have round, furry bodies with football style black and orange coats and a bumbling flight making them easy to identify. Bumble bees are not kept in hives. The 'queen' hibernates over winter then will look for a suitable nesting site in spring (such as old bird's nest, compost heap etc.), where she will raise her offspring. Each nest consists of a large queen together with female worker bees and tiny male or drone bees. Only queen and worker bumble bees have a sting.
A bumble bee colony never amounts to more than a few hundred individuals and does not swarm. During late summer and autumn fully fertile male and females are produced which mate. The fertilised females hibernate until the following year while the remainder die in the cold weather.
Bumble bees are relatively harmless and normally don't sting unless their life is under threat. They are valuable to the environment as pollinators.
Honeybees are kept by beekeepers but can also live in the wild. They are similar in size to wasps but are dark brown and hairy (sometimes with a tan banding). They are always found in colonies (individuals cannot survive alone), are headed by a queen, and will survive over-winter.
Honeybees can be seen in the garden collecting nectar and pollen. They may also be seen around wet areas such as dripping taps and ponds - bees do need to drink. In most cases they are harmless and will fly away if disturbed.
Colonies totalling as many as 20,000 bees can and will swarm. The noise of a bee swarm can be alarming but the danger is not very great. The swarming bees will cluster, possibly on a tree branch, and should be collected by an experienced beekeeper (contact your local Environmental Health Department or the police if a beekeeper is not known to you). Honeybees can sting, especially if you venture close to their hive.
Honeybees are valuable as pollinators of a wide range of flowers and crops, they also produce honey and beeswax.
There are around 250 species of solitary bee in Great Britain. They resemble honeybees but do not live in colonies. They construct cells, usually in sandy soil, in which they lay a single egg, fill it with pollen and seal. When the larvae hatch they consume the pollen within the cell, pupate and emerge as a bee the following year. Solitary bees are useful pollinators, they are harmless and do not swarm.
Have you got a bee swarm or wasp problem?
Bumble bees, honeybees, solitary bees and wasps can all be found in British gardens. The following information may be useful if distinguishing between the species.
Last updated Thursday, 6th December 2018