There are nearly 250 different types of bee in Britain, and fewer than 30 of them live and work together in colonies like the Honey Bee. Most bees are solitary insects which nest in holes in the soil, sand, decaying stumps of wood, rock fissures or hollow stems, providing a store of food for their larvae but leaving then to hatch alone.
Social bees have developed a sophisticated system of group organisation, each colony feeding and caring for it larvae as they grow. A colony consists of three different types of bee: queen, worker and drone (males). The queen bee is the only fertilised female and her sole function is to lay eggs. The remainder of he females are the workers. They collect food, build the honeycomb in which the eggs are laid and the honey and pollen is stored - care for the eggs and do all the other work of the colony. The drones - males - help to maintain the hive temperature and provide the initial fertilisation of the young queen. Towards the end of the summer they are driven off by the workers to die. They try and get back into the hive, as they cannot feed themselves, usually they are stung to death by the workers.
A healthy bee colony can consist of 40,000 - 80,000 bees; a bumble bee colony can be 20 - 150. In both cases it is the workers that form the majority.
All bees depend on flowers for food. The female bees of most species feed on the nectar secreted by many plants. They collect the surplus in a compartment in their stomachs; they return to the hive and regurgitate the surplus where, in a few days it has been converted by them into honey and is stored in the cells as food. Some workers gather pollen, collecting it either on their furry bodies or in sacs on their hind legs. As the bees move from flower to flower, the pollen, the male element in flower reproduction, is transferred and the flower is fertilised. Flowers depend on the bees as much as the bees depend on the flowers.
Contrary to popular belief, bees are not a protected species. However, bees are an extremely important part of our eco system and where possible they should be left alone. Bees will only usually be a problem if they swarm. We will only treat for bees if they pose a hazard. If the swarm are honey bees, we will only treat them after first consulting the British Bee Keepers Association.
Honey bees are the species kept by Bee Keepers.
If you have a problem with honey bees, contact a local Bee Keeper or Environmental Health Department as they will be able to arrange for the swarm to be relocated.
- They live in hollow trees or in chimneys, wall cavities or roof spaces.
- They are similar in size to wasps but are furrier and mostly black in colour.
- Honey bees convert nectar into honey and beeswax.
- A honey bee swarm will arrive in flight and cluster on a tree branch.
- A colony size can often be greater than 30,000 individual honey bees.
- Population under threat from varroa mite.
As their name implies, Solitary bees live alone but nest near each other in villages in suitable nesting sites.
- They look similar to honey bees.
- They prefer to feed on honey and pollen.
- Prefer to tunnel and nest in sandy soil, soft mortar in old houses or use domestic airbricks to nest in.
- Solitary bees do not swarm and are not aggressive.
These bees are known as masonry or mortar bees because they like to nest in crevices or holes in masonry. They prefer to stay near walls that receive sunshine for much of the day.
Mason bees use naturally occurring holes in bricks or mortar joints (especially mortar with a high lime or sand content).
- Mason bees are harmless; they are not aggressive and will not attack.
- Masonry bees are most common in southern Britain.
- They include the wool-carder bee, the mining bee, the hairy-footed flower-bee, the leafcutter bee and the red mason bee.
Bumble bees are often confused with honey bees.
- They are larger and furrier than honey bees.
- Dark coloured except for golden stripes across the end of their tails.
- The tail colour can vary in UK varieties.
- Bumble bees nest in small wall cavities, holes in the ground, under sheds or in undisturbed compost heaps.