Most of the bee species in the UK are not bumblebees at all.
There is one species of honeybee (Apis mellifera) and more information about the differences between bumblebees and honeybees can be found here - bumblebees vs honeybees.
The rest are what we call 'solitary bees', and they get this name because their nests don't have a queen with workers, unlike bumblebees and honeybees. It can be very difficult to identify solitary bees, but some of the common species are spotted in gardens. Solitary bees are generally smaller than bumblebees, and while they can sting, their sting isn't very effective on humans, and is quite weak.
Some species of solitary bee have declined in the UK, and they do need our help. Fortunately, the work that the Bumblebee Conservation Trust is doing will also benefit solitary bees, as they are suffering for the same reasons as bumblebees: the lack of flowers for food. You can find our more about our work and see how you can support us by clicking here. Read on to learn about some of these fascinating bees.
Tawny mining bee, Andrena fulva
The Tawny mining bee is often found nesting in lawns, where it digs little holes surrounded by volcano-shaped mounds of earth. They are most often found in April, when the females make their nests in soil. They will lay their eggs inside the hole, provide food for them, then seal the hole up. The young bees will hatch and develop over the summer, but won't emerge from the nest until next Spring. Their nests do not damage lawns, and the mound of earth will be gone in a few weeks, so they are not a problem in the garden.
Hairy footed flower bee, Anthophora plumipes
The females of the Hairy footed flower bee look just like small bumblebees (picture left, below). They are black, round and furry, but the males are brown in colour, with long hairs on the legs and feet. The females also have bright orange or yellow hairs on their hind legs, which allows us to tell them apart from bumblebees. This species often nests in soft mortar or hard soil, and is fairly common in much of England and Wales. Males are brown, and have long hairs on the feet (pictured right, below).
Colletes bees look similar to honeybees, having brown hair on the thorax, and thin stripes on the abdomen. The common species often nest in banks of bare earth, and many bees nest in the same place, giving the appearance of a large colony. However, every nest is separate, and the bees don't help one another.
“Few people realise just how important bumblebees are. They are charming little things and a pleasure to see, but they also do an essential job which many people take for granted. If bumblebees continue to decline then we face ecological turmoil. Join BBCT today and support their important work.”
Naturalist, Television presenter
and BBCT President