Different Types of Bees in The UK

Different types of bees can be found all across our gardens and landscapes in the UK. We all know about bees; what delightful little creatures they are and that they make sweet honey. We also know that they are slowly becoming more and more endangered due to disease, chemicals, and habitat destruction. Have you noticed that there are less buzzing around than there used to be?

It’s not an understatement to say that the human race is dependent on bees. They are vital for harvests and growing food. It might sound dramatic to say that, but these flying insects really are at the heart of every harvest because they are nature’s pollinators. Saving the bees is about more than stopping them becoming extinct, it’s about helping humanity as a whole.

Much like butterflies and hedgehogs, bees are a great indicator of overall environmental health. Hedgehogs and butterflies are also in decline due to environmental issues. The good news is that there are many things you can do to help in your garden and it all begins with identifying them.

Did you know that there are over twenty-five thousand different bee species around the world? These can be divided into about four thousand genera and nine bee family groups. There are more than 250 reported types of bee in the UK. With all that said, here are the different types of bees in the UK we think you need to know about.

Social Type of Bees

Social bees live in hives and nests and include common species like honeybees. These bees can live together in huge groups of up to 50,000 bees living together following a hierarchy. Bumblebees, while social bees, prefer to live in smaller groups of up to 150. Social bees follow a queen bee, who is responsible for reproduction. The other bees in the hive collect food, fertilize the queen, and ensure the hive stays clean and protected. Here are some common social types of bees.

1. Bumblebees

Bumblebees

When most people think about bees they are thinking about the humble little bumblebee. These are the fluffy little bees that make a lot of noise and look cute and cuddly as they bash into your window because they don’t understand how glass works. There are many different types of bumblebee including White-tailed bees, Red-tailed bees, Cuckoo and the Tree bumblebee.

Carders are distinct from other types of bees in that they are all ginger bees. They can be found in British gardens and they like to drink the nectar of weeds including nettles and dandelions. There are 3 ginger carder bumblebees species found in the UK. The Common Carder, Brown-Banded Carder and the Moss Carder.

Cuckoo Bumblebees belong to the sub-genus, Psithyrus. Like the bird, they take over the nests of other bumblebees and lay eggs to be reared and fed by the workers of that nest.

Did you know that the Garden Bumblebee has a tongue that stretches out to 2cm? It’s the largest tongue found in any UK bee species. Also, the old English name for bumblebees was a “Dumbledore”, which is where JK Rowling got the name for Dumbledore from.

2. Honeybees

Honeybees

The honeybee is different from the bumblebee in that they are slimmer and they have a striped golden body. They are one of the more endangered UK bee species. Beekeepers are preserving the species by keeping them in artificial hives but they are rarer to find in the wild than they used to be.

Honeybees like to feed on flowers including fruit blossoms and lavender. The honey industry will likely keep the honeybees going for some time, but they are at their pollinating best when roaming free.

Read our post about Bees and Honey to find out why they make it and what it’s used for.

Not all of those black and yellow fuzzy flying things are honey bees or bumblebees, you know! Some of them may just be these little Solitary guys.

Solitary bees, as you might guess, prefer to be by themselves or in very small groups. They live in burrows or tunnels. If you keep a bee hotel to encourage different types of bees to visit your yard then it’s likely that you’ll encounter some solitary bees living there. They don’t produce wax or honey like other bees. They feed their young using a mixture of nectar and pollen.

3. Mason Bees

A Red Mason bee inspecting a potential nesting site

Mason bees can be found in the brickwork of houses. They are also found in dead flower stalks, wood, and walls. They are identified by their black faces and ginger bodies. Their heads are a bit more square than other kinds of bees too.

The name Mason Bee comes from the fact that they like to collect small building materials like mud. They use the materials to construct homes for themselves in gaps in masonry, so the name has kind of a double meaning. Not only do they live in masonry, but they are good little masons in their own right.

4. Mining Bees

Tawny mining bee (Andrena fulva)

If you notice a little mound of earth out on your lawn then it was likely left by a mining bee. Mining bees are called that because they burrow into the ground and live in nests underground. There are several kinds of mining bee out there, including the Tawny Mining bee and Ashy Mining bees.

They can be found in just about every environment. They can be found in gardens, quarries, and beetle tunnels. If there’s some ground they can dig into they’ll happily make a little home there.

5. Leafcutter Bees

Close-up a Leafcutter Bee (genus Megachile)

Leafcutter bees earned their name for a very simple reason. They have been found to remove plant foliage in semi-circular patterns, much like a mechanical leaf cutter. There are a total of seven different leafcutter bee species in the UK.

The bees made good use of the foliage they cut down. They take the leaves and use them to build a nesting cell for their young larvae to grow in. These types of bees can be found nesting in beetle holes and require a total of around 40 leaf pieces to make a nursery.

6. Carpenter Bees

Carpenter Bee

Carpenter bees are also known as wood bees. They are a kind of solitary bee that will drill through wood. This bee species can be a real issue for homeowners and can do major damage if left unchecked. They don’t have barbed stingers either, so watch out as they can sting more than once – unlike some other bee species.

The female carpenter bee will burrow into wood and create a nest to lay eggs in. The nest keeps the young bees safe as they develop. The wood that they chew out is deposited outside of the nest in deposits known as “frass”.

7. Sweat Bees

Sweat Bee

Sweat bees are a kind of ground bee. There are around 3500 species worldwide, and about 40 found in Britain. While they can be found across the world they are most common in Continental America, with around 1,000 different varieties across Central America, Canada, and the United States. Sweat bees are in the Halictidae family. Considered a solitary bee, they still live in colonies. They spread further out across a colony though, with some bees living far away from other members of the colony.

Oddly enough they get their name due to their strange fondness for human sweat. Their small tongues are used to drink human sweat from unsuspecting people. They are so small that you might not even notice one is on you. They are relatively harmless and are unlikely to sting you unless you press one against your skin while it is feeding.

Be Nice to Bees
There’s no reason to be afraid of bees. They are a lovely sight to see in the garden and they are an integral part of the ecosystem. If you’ve ever eaten fruit or a vegetable then a bee was likely involved in the process.

It’s all too easy to underestimate what different types of Bees in the UK and around the world do for us. Even so, we should offer them a little something in return such as a flowering plant or a place to stay free from chemicals. So be nice to bees if you spot some in your garden or out and about.