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  • Writer's pictureMid Wales Bees and Wasps

Bee Facts - Please click below to read

Updated: Sep 7, 2020

Did You Know?

Bombus terrestris, Buff-tailed bumblebee

There are 271 recorded species of bee in the UK. This number can change, as new species are being added to the British list as they are discovered, so this figure could already be out of date.

25 are bumblebees and the remainder are classed as solitary.

Solitary Bees

Most bee species have a solitary life. Each female will make her own nest which may be in the ground, in a cavity above the ground or perhaps a plant stem. Different bees create different nests. Certain species will dig a single burrow in the ground and lay an egg in the chamber or chambers that it has created in that burrow. Each chamber will be provisioned with pollen for the larvae to eat once hatched.

Andrena haemorrhoa, often seen in spring

Social Bees

Bumblebees are classed as social species of bees. They start the year with a queen that has emerged from a dormant phase over the winter. She has been fertilized the previous year by a male bumblebee of the same species and will initially need to feed up as her body reserves will be low.

This is why it is important to have flowering plants available throughout the year. With our seasons being changable, and climate change having an impact, bees can emerge early and need to have provisions available on which to feed.

Recording Bees and Wasps

What constitutes a biological record? When making a record of any species of animal or plant, there are 4 essential elements:

  • Who - the name of the person making the record

  • What - what is the name of the animal or plant

  • Where - the grid reference if possible that the animal or plant is seen

  • When - the date that it was seen

There is actually a fifth element that is also important and not always included, although it should be reported and that is the name of the person that identifies the animal or plant. They may be someone who has named the species, other than the person whom recorded it. This is really important, as a County Recorder will need to know this as well.

It can add to the clues that help them to accept the record as correct, especially if the species is difficult to identify and has required an 'expert' to look at it.

Photography and Identification

Photographing insects is not an easy task. I have lost count of the number of times I manage to just get a picture of the animal as it disappears over the side of the flower!

To be able to identify a species may be easy enough in some photographs, but it also depends upon the photo. Basically, a front head shot, one from the side of the animal, the top and the legs are a good start. Close ups are useful if possible too.

I have found it helpful to get a quick shot from a distance to start with and then get closer if I'm able. At least I will have one photo that I can crop later.

With digital photography becoming more popular and accessible, it is easier to get a good shot of an animal and it's possible to 'zoom in' to the areas of the photograph to see the essential parts needed to identify it.

However, sometimes it's not possible to identify a bee or wasp from a photo as there may be something that has to be seen in great detail to get it right.

It's a difficult fact that sometimes a 'voucher specimen' of the animal is needed (to identify some invertebrates). These are needed to check the animal against another to ensure that it is identified correctly, for example, against a specimen in a museum. It is important that the identification is correct to make sure that we know what is happening with distribution and to give a wider picture what is in our countryside.

The Role of the County Recorder

The County Recorder of a Vice County will oversee the records for the wildlife group that they are responsible for. These are volunteers with expert knowledge of that group. Records from the group of animals or plants will be 'verified' by the County Recorder as they will check the accuracy of the record and data before it is added to the recording database for that County.


There is plenty of information about bees in the UK and it has recently improved with the addition of an excellent field guide that has useful keys, photographs and distribution maps of all of the British species.

Information about social and solitary wasps for the beginner is not as 'user friendly' yet, although I believe that this may be catered for in the next few years.

The UK Bees, Wasps and Ants Recording Society (BWARS) are a subscription based, volunteer recording Society and is affilitated to the British Entomological and Natural History Society. They have an excellent site, full of information about all of the British aculeates, bees, wasps and ants. There are photographs and descriptions of the species plus information about recording them. You can subscribe to receive their newsletters as well.

They are online:

Books about Bees

Field Guide to the Bumblebees of Great Britain and Ireland, Revised Edition, 2005, Mike Edwards and Martin Jenner, Ocelli

Field Guide to the Bees of Great Britain and Ireland, 2015, Steven Falk, Illustrated by Richard Lewington, Bloomsbury Press

Bumblebees, 2011, Oliver E. Prys-Jones and Sarah A. Corbet, Cambridge University Press

Handbook of the Bees of the British Isles, Volumes 1 and 2, 2018, George, R. Else and Mike Edwards, The Ray Society

Books about Wasps

Solitary Wasps, 1995, Peter F. Yeo and Sarah A. Corbet, Cambridge University Press

Wasps of Surrey, 2010, David W. Baldock, Surrey Wildlife Trust

The Vespoid Wasps, (Tiphiidae, Mutillidae, Sapygidae, Scoliidae and Vespidae) of the British Isles,2014, Royal Entomological Society

Online Resources

Bumblebee Conservation Trust:

Steven Falk's online collection of photographs and descriptions of insects, including bees and wasps at:

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