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 possibilities by clicking on the links to the excellent sources of 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. Planting for pollinators
Common bees in Hampshire
Honey Bee Apis Mellifela mellifela
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
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
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!
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
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
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
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
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.
Wasps and hoverflies
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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