Common types of Bees and Wasps

Whilst SABKA is interested in the protection of all bees (but not wasps!), it exists for the protection and care of honey bees.  If you think you have a swarm that needs removing, please check on this page to ensure you have honey bees before contacting us (see Swarms – what do I do)


Honey Bees

Honey bees are social insects and live together in huge numbers.  A hive can contain as many as 50,000 bees, and a large swarm could contain around 25,000 bees.   If what you are looking at does not contain at least many hundreds of bees, it is unlikely that you have honey bees.

You would be most likely to see a swarm of honey bees from late April until perhaps as late as July, with most occurring in May and early June.

Honeybees vary in colour, from almost black to a light brown, and usually the hooped strips on their abdomen are visible.  They are usually not bright yellow and black.

When a swarm of honey bees is flying (and shortly after settling somewhere) the air will be thick with bees.  The bees will normally cluster on an object (a tree, a fence or bush are favourites, but anywhere might do!) and after an hour or two, the swarm will settle down, clustering around the Queen.  Often this cluster will look like a football or rugby ball.  Unless the site is good enough for the bees to make it a permanent home, they will fly off to a new home, usually within 24 hours.


A Honey bee                  A swarm in a tree              A swarm being rehoused

You may also find honeybees decide to try out parts of buildings – eaves, roof spaces, chimneys and cavity walls. You will not see large numbers of bees, but a regular traffic of bees in and out of the structure.  It is most likely that we will not be able to help with this, and experts will need to be called in.  Please do not try to poison the bees, as the poison can cause problems not just for the bees in the structure, but for other bees, insects or animals who might visit the site drawn by the smell of honey.


Wasps and Hornets


           A wasp                                A hornet
Wasps are often confused with honeybees, as they are more-or-less the same size.  Hornets are around three times the size.  However, wasps and hornets always have bright yellow and black stripes and body markings.

Wasps do not swarm or hang around in clusters in the same way as honey bees do.

Wasp nests can be underground (sometimes) or hanging from an undisturbed branch or in a loft space. The nests are usually roughly spherical, ranging in size from that of a cricket ball to a large beach ball. They are an off-white or pastel brown/grey colour and made of paper chewed from soft wood by the wasps.



A wasp nest in a bush                  A wasp nest in a loft

Like all beekeeping associations, SABKA will not remove wasp nests.  Please see Swarms – what do I do for details of what to do if you have a wasps nest.




A queen bumble bee                  A bumble bee nest               A bumble bee

These are also often confused with honeybees. In general, they are larger, furrier and dark-coloured, except for stripes across the ends of their tails. The stripes may be light brown or orange or white and there may be a number of them, depending on the exact species (there are 24 different species of bumble bee in the UK). The larger bumblebees are usually a queen bumblebee, which can be slightly larger than the end of your thumb and the smaller bumblebees (the workers) are slightly larger than the end of your little finger.

Bumblebees are generally very docile and difficult to provoke, and whilst they can be held on your hand, bumblebees can sting.  They do not swarm however.

Take a look at Bumblebee Conservation Trust which has a good amount of information and pictures on bumble bees if you would like to identify a particular type of bumblebee.


Solitary Bees

The only other major class of insects that can easily be confused with the above are the solitary bees.


A red mason bee                       A Tawny mining bee
These are often active earlier in the year than honey bees and wasps.  These often look like flies or honeybees, but they live on their own. They are harmless and best left alone – they do not swarm and few can sting or are aggressive. However, if you wish to move them on, you can do so by gradually introducing some disturbance or by making the ground damp, but only if you have to – they will cause no harm if left alone.

Take a look at Solitary bees gallery for more information on the most common types of solitary bee that you are likely to find in your garden.