Bees, wasps and buzzy things

There’s a host of brilliantly illustrated guides to help us identify the UK’s pollinators and here, you’ll find links to the best of them. I’ve also picked out a few species we are more likely to see buzzing around in Hampshire and one I hope we won’t.

This page is far from comprehensive and you’ll discover even more by clicking on the links to further information, starting with this beautifully clear chart from Friends of the Earth. British bees.

Even though the UK has an amazing array of insect species, some have disappeared forever and many others are under threat but there are some simple things we can all do to help. Gardening for pollinators.

Common bees in Hampshire

Honey Bee Apis Mellifela mellifela

The baskets on her legs are stuffed with bright orange pollen

March to October

Most honey bees live in managed hives but they can also make nests above ground in tree cavities and buildings.

You are only ever likely to see the female worker bee in your garden and she is very unlikely to sting you unless frightened by a sudden over-reaction!

They say the dog is man’s best friend but I think it’s the honey bee. After all, through pollination, she’s responsible for one in three of every mouthful we eat. British Beekeepers’ Association.

Buff-tailed bumblebee Bombus terrestris

Most commonly seen March to November

One of the most frequently seen bees in Hampshire, it is increasingly winter active. It is a larger species (particularly the queen who can be nearly 2cm long!) and is difficult to tell apart from the White-tailed bumble bee but if you look carefully, you’ll see she has dark yellow bands at the front of her thorax (the middle bit of her body between her head and abdomen). The excellent blooms for bees guide

White-tailed bumblebee
Bombus lucorum

March to October

Widespread throughout the UK, this species often goes through two generations in a single season but currently doesn’t show winter activity like the similar-looking Buff-tailed bumblebee.

Like all bumblebees they are very important pollinators. There is also a Northern White-tailed bumblebee (apparently with a very strong Yorkshire accent!) found in upland areas where our White-tailed is absent. Bumble bee conservation trust

Garden bumblebee
Bombus hortorum

Why the long face?

It’s because she has a very extensive tongue! The Garden Bumblebee is everyone’s favourite and is common in Hampshire and throughout the UK. She loves our gardens. Look out for her long face, bright yellow collar and white tail. The males have black facial hair like most of the youth of today!

Red-tailed bumblebee
Bombus lapidarius

March to October

Common throughout the UK, especially in the South. All castes have a distinctive velvety black body and dark orange, almost crimson tail.

Their vivid colours tend to bleach in the sun and fade with age (I know the feeling!) which can make identifying them more difficult.

Common Carder Bee
Bombus pascuorum

February to November in Hampshire

If you see a ginger bee, its probably one of these! All castes (queen, worker and males) have a ginger thorax and a paler ginger abdomen with visible black hairs between the bands. They nest in the ground and sometimes in tree cavities and are between 1cm and 1.5cm long.

Southern Cuckoo Bee
Bombus vestalis

April to September

Ginger or yellow collar, black body and white tail. Can be up to 2cm long. This bee is a true Southerner but is similar in appearance to the Gypsy Cuckoo Bee which is rare in the South. Like other cuckoo bees, the queen enters the nest of their host (in this case the Buff-tailed bumble bee), kills the queen and is then waited on hand-and-foot by the workers. Other Cuckoo bees you may see are the Field or Forest Cuckoo or the Barbut’s Cuckoo Bee. Blooms for bees.

Brown-banded Carder Bee
Bombus Humilis

Rare: May to September

Once common throughout England, the Brown-banded Carder Bee has retreated to Southern England. They have a bright ginger thorax and buff abdomen and nest on the surface in tall grasses. That’s why loss of habitat is a problem for them but they can still be found on Salisbury Plain. Sometimes they nest underground. They are similar to the more widespread Common Carder Bee, Shrill Carder and Moss Carder Bees.

Red-Shanked Carder Bee
Bombus Ruderarius

Rare: April to September

Confined now to Southern England, this bee is similar to the Red-tailed Bumblebee but has a much more rounded body.

The queens and workers also have distinctive orange hairs (look carefully!) around the pollen baskets on their hind legs. They like to nest in long grass and sometimes underground.

The Hampshire and Isle of Wight Conservation Trust has produced a beautifully illustrated Wild Bee Action Pack. It provides more detail on how we can help in our gardens and can be downloaded here.

Wasps and hoverflies

Common wasp
Vespula vulgaris

Look at her carefully, isn’t she beautiful? But it’s hard not to swat them away from the picnic or even to try to kill them in the house. This is the most common wasp in the UK; the Yellowjacket, public enemy number one but can you see how she’s covered in pollen? Wasps are important pollinators and they eat garden pests like greenfly. Perhaps we should give them a break?

The German wasp (Vespula Germanica) looks almost identical to the common wasp and is also widespread in the UK.

Read this fascinating article from the Natural History Museum explaining the importance of wasps to our ecosystem and describing some of 7,000 species native to the British Isles. British wasps

Red wasp
Vespula rufa

Red wasp, Vespula Rufa

These inoffensive little darlings are often confused with the slightly larger (and more aggressive) common wasp. They build small nests underground and can be identified by the reddish tinge to their body.

I had a nest of red wasps directly in front of a hive last season and they were no bother at all. Red wasp.

BBC Countryfile, Guide to British wasps


The Marmalade fly, Episyrphrus balteatus

There are many species of hoverfly in the UK, the most common of which is the Marmalade fly. Although they cannot sting, many of the larger hoverflies have black and yellow stripes mimicking bees and wasps. Apparently, this doesn’t fool the Flycatcher bird who wised-up to their tricks along time ago!

Hoverflies are true flies, having only one pair of wings and they feed on nectar and garden pests like aphids. Although hover flies are undoubtably involved in pollination, their true contribution is not fully understood due to lack of research. Hoverflies and British Naturalist , hoverflies

European hornet
Vespa Crabro

Our native hornet. A beneficial insect

The European hornet (Vespa Crabro) is the largest eusocial wasp native to Europe. It has a yellow head with a reddish brown thorax (the middle bit) and it’s abdomen has yellow and black stripes similar to it’s smaller cousin, the common wasp. It also has reddish-brown legs. Know your hornets

Although she may look a bit scary at 3.3cm long, our native hornet is the gardeners’ friend. She pollinates our plants and preys on pests like black fly and aphids. The hornet is less likely to sting you than the common wasp.

Asian hornet
Vespa velutina

The yellow-legged Asian hornet has devastated bee populations in France and elsewhere in Europe

Oh dear! I hope you never see one of these. The Asian Hornet is an invasive species in the UK and although it has been sighted seventeen times since 2006, prompt action by the authorities has so far, prevented it from spreading as it has in continental Europe with devastating results. It has destroyed local bee populations and further information about it can be found here.

It smaller than our native hornet, typically (2.5cm long) and is almost entirely dark especially when viewed from above. It has one noticeably orange segment near the bottom of its back and it’s most characteristic feature is it’s bright yellow legs which are very different to the dark legs of the European hornet.

The direct threat of the Asian hornet to humans

Nests of Vespa velutina may contain thousands of hornets and are often built in urban areas, on trees, near houses or on artificial supports like balconies, eaves, etc.

A ladybird about to enjoy a feast

Reports from Europe suggest this species can be very dangerous in the case of repeated stings, for example, when nests are disturbed. Multiple stings can lead to serious symptoms and, at worst, to an anaphylactic shock and even death. It is important that we all know what the Asian hornet looks like, remain vigilant and are ready to report any sightings of this harmful invasive pest. For further details click here. Asian hornet

Beneficial insects

There are both harmful and beneficial insects. Nothing in nature is superfluous or accidental and there are thousands of insects in your garden but only about a tenth of them are pests. Most are harmless, but some are useful and even necessary.

The Red Admiral Butterfly is a common sight in Britain.

Beneficial insects fall into three main categories:

  1. Pollinators – theses are absolutely necessary. Without bees we couldn’t exist! Butterflies, flies and moths are also in this category. They work to pollinate the flowers in our gardens. The Wildlife Trust: how to identify British Butterflies.
  2. Predators – they are useful too as they eat harmful insects. Predators include ladybirds and green lace larvae. BBC Wildlife, Ladybirds.
  3. Parasites grow from other insects. They lay their eggs in others’ bodies, and their larvae feed on host insects. Such are the parasitic wasps. British Parasitic Wasps.

Which are the most common beneficial insects in your garden?


Although they look pretty, Ladybirds are vicious predators. Before they acquire their characteristic red colour, they begin life as larvae wandering around your plants and eating aphids. A ladybird larva can eat up to forty aphids an hour.


Green Lacewings

Their larvae feed on garden pests such as caterpillars and aphids. RSPB: Pest control in your garden .



They eat their prey literally on the go and are very helpful in preventing pests in your garden. Woodland Trust, British Spiders.

The British Garden Spider

Solider Beetles

Soldier beetles feed on aphids and other pests. So named because they have a colour pattern reminiscent of the British Red Coat soldiers. Wildlife Trust: British Solider Beetle.

The Solid Beetle Cantharidae)

Ground Beetles

They feed on many species of insects, including nematodes and caterpillars. Royal Horticultural Society, British Ground Beetles.


Assassin Bugs

They use their sharp mouthparts to chase different types of insect pests in the garden. Assassin bugs are long-legged predatory bugs with a prominent curved rostrum, used to feed on a wide range of other insects. Some species are very thin and thread-like, while others are much more compact. This is predominantly a tropical family but is represented in the UK by seven species.

Parasitic wasps

Braconid wasps – they lay their eggs on the backs of tomato hornworms and other harmful caterpillars, How to get rid of Tomato Hornworm.

Trichogramma wasps – they lay their eggs inside the eggs of over 200 different insect pests. You can even buy them to add to your garden. Parasitic Wasps.

Trichogramma Wasp larvae

How to attract beneficial insects?

Beneficial insects need water, food and suitable living conditions. Keep in mind that having a wide variety of plants will attract many beneficial insects. Some beneficial insects appear in the garden before the pests they feed on therefore they need additional food sources, for example, pollen and nectar for bees.

In spring, early-flowering plants are attractive to beneficial insects like bees, especially those with smaller flowers. Our bees’ favourite forage. At a later stage, beneficial insects will be strongly attracted to plants with complex colours such as yarrow, goldenrod, mint, lavender, dill, lemon balm and sage.

If you intend to use chemical pesticides to control pests, remember, along with the harmful ones, pesticides also destroy the beneficial insects which help your garden to thrive. Save the bees!

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