Bee identification

Why are bees important

With all this talk of save the bee you might be forgiven for wondering why? Why are bees so important? How many bees are there exactly? Do they all need to be ‘saved? The good thing is that these are all very easy to answer. We have several articles on them here at the backyard farm.

Why are bees so important? 

Bee’s are very productive creatures, we’ve all heard the saying ‘busy bee’ – well this is because they are very busy little critters! It is estimated that bees are responsible for pollinating around 80% of the crops we grow, that’s an awful lot of food.

Without them we would need to fill a huge role in our food chain that would require lots of labour and lots of money! It is much easier just to help our little furry mates out.

For more on ‘Why bees are so important’ click here

Our most common bees

There are lots of different bees out there, and believe it or not they are not all part of a hive! Some bee species are what we call ‘Solitary bees’ and these guys live differently to bees like the Honey Bee, an example of a solitary bee would be a Mining Bee. 

No matter the differences, all bees have one thing in common, they are pretty much all great pollinators! The least we can do is help them out a little 🙂 To help you get started with your bee helping projects we’ve comprised a list of our most common and helpful bee species.

How to identify bees

Bumble Bees

Banded white-tailed bumblebees

Active months

From March to November (all year round in the south during warmer years).

Nesting habits

Cavities and Old Burrows

How to identify Banded white-tailed bumblebees 

Bumble bees have distinctive yellow and black bands and a white tail.

Description

Easily the most iconic bee with their striped markings and dozy flight. Several species of bumblebee have this colour pattern.

Early bumblebee

Active months

From March to June.

Nesting habits

Cavities and Old Burrows.

How to identify an Early bumblebee

Yellow and black bands, with an orange tail. Smaller in size, the males have yellow facial hair.

Description

This is the UK’s smallest bumblebee, they are very common in gardens and areas where there are trees and bushes. The early bumblebee is a key pollinator of summer fruits like raspberries, and who doesn’t like a raspberry!

Red-tailed black bumblebees

Active months

From April to November.

Nesting habits

Tussocks or Old burrows

How to identify Red-tailed black bumblebees

These guys have a Black body with an orange tail. A male red tailed bumblebee will have a yellow ruff.

Description

There are x3 species of this bee and each one has slightly different markings. Out of these 3 you are most likely to see the red-tailed bumblebee. If you want to help bees out, check the critter for dark-winged red-tailed cuckoo bees which are nest parasites!

Brown Banded Carder bees

Active months

From March to November.

Nesting habits

Tussocks

How to identify Brown Banded Carder bees

These bees are usually a brown colour that can vary all the way to a ginger. Their rear legs are bare and shiny. The Common carder bee also has black hairs on its abdomen.

Description

The most common colour for a carder bee is brown, all carder bees are big fans of tubular flowers. This means you will likely find them around plants like deadnettle, foxglove and any kind of legume flower.

Tree bumblebee

Active months

From March to July.

Nesting habits

Tree Bumble bees like cavities above ground level

How to identify a Tree bumblebee

Very identifiable bee with a black abdomen and white tail. The thorax is a ginger colour and the bee will have a black underside.

Description

The Tree Bumble bee is not native to the UK! It was first recorded here in 2001. These bees are currently being tracked as they spread across the country. To find them look in trees, bird boxes or buildings – anywhere above ground.

Shrill carder bee (Rare)

Active months

From May to September.

Nesting habits

Tussocks

How to identify a Shrill carder bee (Rare)

A shrill carder bee can be identified by its pale yellow colour, grey bands and peach tail.

Description

If you’re lucky enough to see one of these bees you’re likely in the Southern parts of the UK. These bees like meadows and grasslands where they scour for legume flowers.

Honey Bees

Active months

From March to October.

Nesting habits

Honey bees nest in Beehives or in cavities above the ground.

How to identify Honey Bees

The honey bee stands out and is easy to spot. They have an amber abdomen

Abdomen with amber bands or completely black. Buff-haired thorax. Rear legs bare and shiny.

Description 

Most honeybees in the UK live in hives managed by beekeepers. Each hive can contain over 20,000 bees. Only worker honeybees make delicious honey, using nectar gathered from flowers.

Solitary Bees

Hairy-footed flower bee

Active months

From March to June.

Nesting habits

In Aerial or ground nests such as walls, banks or underground nests.

How to identify a Hairy-footed flower bee

Females

A female solitary bee has a black abdomen with yellow legs. 

Males

A male solitary bee has a brown abdomen, a pale face and hair plumes on their middle legs.

Description

Often mistaken for a bumble bee, the solitary bee is amongst the earliest to become active in spring time. Great pollinators as they spend their days traversing between flowers and blossoms. A solitary bee loves some deadnettles, lungwort and other wallflowers.

Common mourning bee

Active months

From March to June.

Nesting habits

Unlike most bees, the Mourning Bee is a ‘nest parasite’.

How to identify a Common mourning bee

They have an easily identifiable, fury grey collar although they have been known to be all black on occasion. They also have white spots along the abdomen which are pointed at the rear.

Description

As a ‘Cuckoo Bee’, the common mourning bee lays her eggs in another bees nest, namely the nests of hairy-footed flower bees! The unsuspecting mother will feed the cuckoo bees larvae until it’s ready to leave the nest…. sneaky!

Wool carder bee

Active months

From May to July.

Nesting habits

This is a bee who you’ll see hanging around your bee hotel, as an aerial nester the Wool Carder bee likes to nest in trees or cavities above ground.

How to identify a Wool carder bee

Very easy to identify, these guys have yellow spots and lines along the abdomen. The males stand out even more as they have two prongs at the rear of the abdomen. 

Description

The Wool Carder bee is often mistaken for a wasp with its bright yellow and black markings. However, this little bee is far from a wasp and has some interesting behaviour.

Female 

The female wool carder bees exhibit the behaviour that gives these bees their name. A female will gather balls of plant hairs to build their nest cavities, the balls of plant hair resemble wool. 

Male

A male will guard hairy plants such as lamb’s-ear, fighting off other bees to ensure they get to mate with visiting females.

Leafcutter bees

Active months

From May to August.

Nesting habits

This is a bee who you’ll see hanging around your bee hotel, as an aerial nester the Wool Carder bee likes to nest in trees or cavities above ground.

How to identify Leafcutter bees

Leafcutter bees are similar to honey bees in appearance but they behave much differently. They have a wide head and body making them look a little stumpy. A female leaf cutter has a brush of hair under the abdomen.

Description

Just like other bee species, a leafcutter does what it says on the tin – they cut leaves! They use these cuts of leaf to build their nests in cavities at their chosen site.

The Small scissor bee

Active months

From June to August.

Nesting habits

This is a bee who you’ll see hanging around your bee hotel, as an aerial nester the Wool Carder bee likes to nest in trees or cavities above ground.

How to identify The Small scissor bee

The small scissor bee is one of the UKs smallest species, at only 6-7mm in length you’d be lucky to spot one at all! These bees have a long slender body with a big head. The female scissor bees can be seen transporting pollen under her abdomen.

Description

The UK’s smallest little bee can be found collecting it’s favourite pollen from bellflowers. The females will often nest in old woodworm burrows whilst males lodge inside flowers.

Red mason bee

Active months

From March to June.

Nesting habits

This is a bee who you’ll see hanging around your bee hotel, as an aerial nester the Wool Carder bee likes to nest in trees or cavities above ground.

How to identify a Red mason bee

Red Mason Bees really stand out from the crowd with their vibrant orange hair. A dark head and thorax add contrast to the bees appearance. The males have white face hairs whilst the female collects pollen under its abdomen.

Description

Commonly found residing in bee hotels or building its home in stone walls, hence its name the ‘Mason’ bee. The female red mason bee will gather mud to build its nest cells. They prefer the flowers from fruit trees making them efficient pollinators of many fruits in the UK. 

Tawny mining bee

Active months

From March to June.

Nesting habits

Burrows in the ground

How to identify a Tawny mining bee

A Tawny mining bee carries a thick orange coat of bristly hairs lending to their name. They can be seen carrying pollen from plant to plant on its black leg hairs. 

Description

As its name suggests this bee is a tawny colour and makes its nests in holes in the ground. They are responsible for the mounds of soil with a hole in the center of your freshly mown lawn – It’s a good job they are cute! Their favorite flowers appear during the spring blossoms

Ashy mining bee

Active months

From March to June.

Nesting habits

Just like its aforementioned cousin, the Ashy mining bee likes to burrow in tunnels. 

How to identify an Ashy mining bee

The ashy mining bee is true to its name being jet black with grey bands around its thorax and abdomen.

Description

Due to its ashy complexion the ashy mining bee looks as if its just clocked off from a shift in the coal mines. This bee can be found nesting separately but in large congregations, usually along sunny walkways or hedgerows. The ashy mining bee is key in the pollination of oilseed rape.

Orange-tailed mining bee

Active months

From March to July.

Nesting habits

Another mining bee, this species like to nest in the ground.

How to identify an Orange-tailed mining bee

A very striking bee and relatively easy to distinguish with its tight collection of rusty hairs on the thorax. The orange tailed mining bee also has a black body and yellow hind legs, there are also some rusty orange hairs on the abdomen.

Description

One of the UKs more common species, the orange tailed mining bee can be found in country fields to the big city. This bee likes to make its nests on grass verges where it can easily navigate to the flowers of shrubs in bloom.

Long-horned bee

Active months

From May to August.

Nesting habits

This species likes to burrow in the ground or on cliff sides.

How to identify the Long-horned bee

The male long horned bee is easily identifiable due to its long antennae, the females also stand out with their white tail. Both are covered with grey-brown hair.

Description

The male long horned bee gives this species its name, they have a very long antennae! Unfortunately this bee is in decline across the UK and is in need of all the help it can get.