Bees & Wasps
Please Note: The first thing to do if you suspect you have a swarm is to find out if they are honeybees or something else! Only Honeybees swarm, and are not as common as bumblebee or wasps are. EMBA can only help with swarms of honeybees, if you are having a problem with one of the other species please use the information and advice below.
If you are experiencing a problem with a swarm of bees, please visit our Swarms page for more information.
Identifying Bees and Wasps
The first question is - what are they bees, wasps, or something else? It might seem a silly question but honeybees are the least likey species to be discovered in spring nesting in your garden, or in wall cavities and roofs. Honeybees are regularly mistaken for wasps, some people even think they are the same thing! Only honeybees swarm, and wasps don't usually appear in numbers until summer. Most people know what a Bumblebee looks like and and are generally familiar with Wasps. There are however others which look similar such as the many species of solitary bees and hover flies.The pictures on the right show the distinct differences, and there are descriptions below.
Honey bees are small, slightly hairy, and muted in colour - usually shades of brown and black, rather than the bright yellow of wasps or hornets. They are only usually aggressive when defending their hive, and are not aggressive like wasps when foraging away from home. Honey bees can often be seen carrying pollen on their hind legs as 'pollen baskets'.
Bumblebees are much bigger, rounder and visibly furry, and come in a variety of species and colours see the (identification guide, NHM Guide). They are fairly common in gardens throughout the UK during the spring and summer, and often build a nest in a compost heap, composter bin, under the garden shed and other warm dry places. Their behaviour is much like the honeybee - docile, not at all aggressive,and only become angry when they or their nest is physically attacked.
Wasps are smooth-shelled and shiny, with brighter, distinct yellow and black stripes, and lack the hairs that honey bees and bumble bees have. They are more inquisitive and aggressive than bees, and are attracted to sweet smelling or fermenting things, such as jam, rotten fruit, alcohol. Wasps can sting repeatedly, and are much more likely to do so than honey or bumble bees.
Solitary Bees and Wasps
There are many species of these insects which occur frequently around our homes and gardens in spring and summer. They are all beneficial to the environment and pose no threat to humans. Mason bees look very similar to honey bees, though they lack the pollen baskets on their hind legs. They are also generally only present in spring and early summer, whereas bees can be seen into late Autumn.
Hover and Drone Flies
These species are often mistaken for bees and wasps, and it is no coincidence as many of these species are mimics enjoying the benefits of looking like something you'd best avoid! They are harmless and of great benefit to the environment. On close examination, these flies can be differentiated frmo wasps or bees by their wing arrangement - looking more like those on common house flies.
Bees and wasps have different kinds of nests and preferred locations for nesting. There are images of the common types you might encounter provided.
Honey bees tend to occupy sites such as old, hollow trees, chimneys, vents etc - usually opting for dry, sealed spaces which are commonly around 30 to 60 litres in volume (around the size of a microwave). Nest sites are usually raised up off the ground - sometimes high up.
Wasps also commonly nest in the ground in old mouse nests, but they also build paper wasp nests, which can often be seen hanging in trees, or in the eaves of rooves, lofts etc.
Solitary Bees and Wasps tend to occupy small holes in walls, vents, trees etc, usually somewhere in size between a pencil and a jam jar.
Of course, there are no hard and fast rules - wasps can set up home in old beehives, honey bees will nest in wall cavities, etc.
Q. I have a nest of bumblebees in the garden and I want rid of them. How do I kill them?
A. Please don't! Bumblebees are one of our wild insects that occur naturally throughout the country and are hugely important pollinators. Unfortunately, due to loss of habitat and the prevalence of pesticide use, their numbers are decreasing and some species are already under severe threat of extinction and are already protected. If you intentionally and recklessly destroy the nest of a protected species you may well find yourself on the wrong side of the law!
Bumblebees are rarely in any way aggressive, and will only sting if you provoke them severely by molesting them or their nest. The nest is seasonal, and dies out naturally once the new generation of queen bumblebees has been reared towards the end of the summer. The queens go off to hibernate in a dry hole somewhere, and the remaining workers in the nest die by the end of October. It will be in order for you to remove the nest from your shed or compost heap then. In the meantime, consider yourself lucky and privileged to have them nesting in your garden, and develop a sense of responsibility in helping protect our natural heritage.
If Bumblebees have taken up residence in your property please consider ways and means of keeping children and pets away from the nest entrance while they are there. Use things such as physical barriers to keep them away. Barriers and ducting can be used to encourage the bees to use remote access to an already established nest, or to fly upwards to and from the entrance. Erect these in the late evening when the Bumblebees are all at home and not flying. They will re-orientate themselves next morning. Lastly find out more about Bumblebees and their place in your world, and educate children to safely appreciate them and their presence.
Q. I have a wasps nest in my property, should I get rid of it myself?
A. Please don't! Unless the nest poses a danger to children or pets. Wasps do a great deal of help in the garden and countryside by consuming large numbers of caterpillars, aphids and other plant pests. It may be safer in fact to leave the nest alone, unless it is already causing a nuisance. If you MUST get rid of it, use the services of a qualified Pest Control specialist. Please do NOT use 'DIY' remedies such as flammable liquids. You will probably fail to remove the nest, and may end up injuring yourself, and damaging your home and property.
Wasps around the home are attracted to the smell of the sweet things that humans enjoy, and often buzz around kitchen windows and waste bins looking for an easy feed. Some simple measures can reduce the occurrence of wasps around your property. Consider how you store and dispose of sweet things like jam jars, juice containers and food stuffs. Clean or wrap containers before putting in the bin. Keep your bins well cleaned.
Q. I have a mason or mining bees in my property, should I get rid of them myself?
A. Please don't! These solitary bees pose no danger to you , your property, children or pets. Solitary bees are valuable pollinators and are a great benefit to gardens and the countryside. They have weak stings and are not aggressive unless molested.