Do you know your different bee species?
Did you know that there are over 250 different bee species found in the UK? Unfortunately, we can't cover every single species in this short blog - we would need to write a bee encyclopaedia for that! What we will cover in this blog are some of the more common species you are likely to see in your garden or local park this summer!
Bumblebees are one of the easiest type of bee to identify as they are so large, plump and fluffy! Bumblebees are a social bee that live in colonies. Queen bumblebees will hibernate underground in the winter months and will emerge in spring to find nesting sites. Bumblebees are very friendly and are almost never aggressive, they will only sting if they are threatened, so if one comes to say hello don't be scared!
Bumblebees are very important pollinators of many plants and fruit trees, they only eat nectar and pollen so you will often see them on flowering plants in your garden or in parks and meadows. There are several common species of bumblebee you are likely to see all the way from February until September.
Most bumblebees are mainly black in colour with varying amounts of yellow or orange banding but there are some distinctive markings and colours that can help you identify exactly which species of bumblebee you are looking at.
A very common large bumblebee that you might see sitting on an open flower in your garden, if they are collecting nectar then their beautiful red tail should be quite easy to spot. Other than the red tail they usually look almost all black.
You might mistake the early bumblebee for a red-tailed bumblebee at first as they also have a red tail, however the early bumblebee is smaller and fluffier looking. The most distinguishing difference is a bright yellow collar just behind the head. This bright yellow band and red tail gives them their distinct look.
Another large bumblebee, the buff-tailed bumblebee is black with orange stripes around the head and body. It gets its name from its off-white fluffy tail that is fairly easy to spot when it's collecting nectar and pollen.
This bee is very similar looking to the buff-tailed bumblebee, the only real difference to the eye is its snowy white tail. You might think that it would be difficult to tell the difference but once you see just how white the tail is you'll definitely know it when you see one. If it's not that snowy white colour, then you are probably looking at the buff-tailed Bumblebee.
Honeybees are quite a lot slimmer than bumblebees and have a striped golden body. They are more common in number than bumblebees and if you've ever seen a field of oilseed rape or a fruit tree with blossom that's absolutely buzzing with hundreds of bees, then chances are they are honey bees working hard collecting nectar.
There is only one species of honeybee in the UK so once you've identified a honeybee you'll recognise them every time! It is rare to find a truly wild colony of honeybees today, honeybees mostly live in bee-keepers hives but of course they will be found feeding and collecting pollen all around the wider area that their hives are in. How common they are in your own garden might depend on how close you live to a bee-keeper! You'll most likely see them out working between April and October.
Common Carder Bee
Carder bees are delightful little bees that are very common in many people's gardens. They can vary in colour from light orange to a yellowy brown. Smaller than a bumblebee, they really enjoy collecting nectar from many of our common weeds like dandelions and nettles- which is probably why I see them in my garden so often!
Common carder bees are seen across the whole of the UK and in some areas they might be the only type of bee you see regularly in your garden or local parks. They are called 'common' for good reason. There are other species of carder bee in the UK but they are far less common and are usually only found in a few specific areas.
Red Mason Bee
There are several similar looking species of mason bee in the UK but by far the most common is the red mason bee. If you see bees buzzing around next to a brick wall they are probably mason bees, you might also see them in wood and dead plant stalks.
Red mason bees can be identified by their boxy shaped head, their faces are almost all black with an orangey red body. You might see them collecting mud and dirt which they use to make homes within the gaps and cavities in masonry.
They are very common in urban environments that have plenty of gardens and green spaces. If you've put a bee hotel in your garden then there's a good chance it's been used by red mason bees, especially if you live in England or Wales. They are most commonly seen between March and July.
If you've ever seen little piles of earth on your lawn that look like little volcanos then it's probably the work of mining Bees. These bees nest in the ground and you can find them in most environments, from your garden to wasteland and local parks and fields. There are several species that are quite difficult to tell apart. The easiest way to identify these bees is to witness them leaving or returning to their nests.
Tawny Mining Bee
You will typically see this mining bee across the UK in Spring, from March to June. It's a ginger coloured bee, with the males having distinguishing white tufts on their faces. The females are larger than the males and usually a brighter reddish colour.
Ashy Mining Bee
This is probably the easiest mining bee to spot due to its colouring. The ashy mining bee is a similar size to a honey bee but with very distinctive black and grey hairs. They are common in England and Wales and you will typically see them buzzing around their burrows from March onwards into summer.
Leafcutter (or leaf-cutting) bees are another common type of bee to find living in your bee hotel. They get their name from the way they remove little sections of plant leaves and use them to build nests. If you see little pieces of leaf in your bee hotel (or anywhere else you find bees nesting) then that will usually be the work of a leafcutter bee.
There are seven different species in the UK but they are often quite difficult to tell apart to the untrained eye. Most I've seen in my area are around the size of a honeybee, but some species are slightly larger or smaller.
There are some things we can observe to help us identify a leafcutter bee. Something unique to them is that they have a very hairy belly! You might wonder how on earth you could see this but because of this they collect a lot of pollen on their tummy by it sticking to these hairs. If you see a bee with a bright yellow belly absolutely covered in pollen is almost certain to be a member of the leafcutter family. If you witness a bee collecting little pieces of leaf or returning to your bee hotel with them, then you have a leafcutter species living in the home you provided for them!
We hope this gives you a start in identifying the common species of bee you might see in your local area. Leave a comment below to let us know what types of bees you've spotted or maybe are living in your bee hotel right now! And if you would like to make your own bee hotel, check out our step-by-step guide here!