There are over 250 species of bees in the UK, separated into three groups:
Honeybees are slim in appearance and tend to look more like wasps. They have short tongues and prefer flowers that are open. They are social insects and share their hives with up to 60,000 other bees and a queen who can live for up to four years.
Honeybee visiting a vipers bugloss
The main role of a honeybee is to pollinate and they pass on information about flower locations by doing a dance. Honeybees also produce an incredible amount of honey which can be harvested and sold.
There is only one species of honeybee in the UK and many are taken care of by beekeepers. However, there are still some wild colonies. Due to diseases and mites, the number of honeybees in the UK is declining and if you are stung by a honeybee, the bee will die, as their stinger is barbed and will become stuck in your skin.
There are 24 different species of bumblebee in the UK, but they are easy to recognise as they are fat and furry. Each species can be distinguished by the length of its tongue, which determines the type of flower they can feed from.
Bumblebee feeding from a red clover flower. Clover is especially beneficial to bees because the pollen is protein-rich and makes nutritious food for the lavae.
Bumblebees are social insects and live in the wild in nests with between 50 to 400 other bees. They have a queen whose main job is to maintain the number of worker bees as they only live for a few months. Unlike honeybees, they only make a small amount of honey which they use to feed themselves.
The main job of a bumblebee is to pollinate and they communicate with other workers by passing pollen between them to identify flower locations. Sadly, due to a lack of flowers to feed from and places to nest, bumblebee populations are reducing. Bumblebees can get aggravated and sting more than once, as unlike the honeybee, their stingers remain in tact.
Recognising Solitary Bees
Solitary bees make their own nests in underground burrows or in cavity spaces. A female will lay her eggs in the nest, collect pollen and mix it with nectar to provide food for the developing larvae and then cap the cell and leave their young to fend for themselves. Solitary bees don’t produce wax and will cap their nests using different materials:
– Red Mason Bees have red or ginger hair and the females have small horns on their heads. They use mud to cap their nests.
– Leaf Cutter Bees have broad heads with large mandibles for cutting leaves which they place over the top of their nests.
– Wool Carder Bees have yellow and black markings and use fine hairs from plants to make their nest caps.
The main job of a solitary bee is to pollinate. Unlike honeybees, they don’t have pollen baskets and so lose more pollen whenever they visit a flower. Solitary bees are not aggressive and are safe to have around pets and children.
Nurturing The Bee Population Of The Uk
The demise of bees in the UK may be something that you haven’t really thought about before, but it’s a sad fact that, without bees, it would be impossible to support the human population and many of the world’s animals. All the plants, fruit and vegetables that rely on bees to propagate would be severely reduced or even become extinct.
There is a way that you can help bees to survive. You can create a haven in your own garden using Meadowmat which provides a selection of wildflowers, including the following selected 15, which are loved by bees and other pollinating insects.
Agrimony has large pink flower heads which bees find irresistible.
Birdsfoot Trefoil has a lovely bright yellow flower which can provides enough nectar to sustain bees over several visits.
Chicory is a common favourite of bees but can produce a bitter tasting honey.
Clustered Bellflower is a pretty purple wildflower that has open star shaped flowers resembling bells, making it easy for the bees to harvest the nectar.
Columbine flowers have unique nectar spurs which evolve to match the tongue lengths of the pollinators that drink from them. The nectar spurs extend from the base of the petals to tempt bees and other pollinators to visit.
A cluster of columbine flowers. This plant is also known as aquilegia and in its cultivated form it is a cottage garden favourite
Cornflowers grow upright, making a great landing platform for the bees and producing a delicious, sweet nectar, a bee’s ideal food source.
Common daisy flowers attract bees due to their bright, white petals and yellow centre. Daisies bloom early and continue through most of the growing season.
Maiden Pink blooms from late May until July, when there will be an abundance of bees. They produce a lot of delicious nectar.
Maiden pink: this beautiful flower is as attractive to bees as it is to people
Purple Loosetrife produces dramatic spikes of magenta flowers to feed the bees between June and August
Ragged Robin is a delicate, star-shaped pink flower which are an important source of nectar and pollen which makes it very alluring to bees.
Red Campion flowers are very popular with long tongued bees as these flowers have a long tube with the nectar at the bottom. Short tongued bees are unable to reach the nectar in the usual way and resort to stealing these flowers by creating a hole near the base of the flower tube and extracting the nectar. This is great for the bees but not so wonderful for the flower as it relies on bees for pollination and this process bypasses pollen collection.
Teasels are a very tall flower which blooms between July and August. They can be identified by their prickly stems and tiny rings of clustered purple flowers around a tapered seed head. They are an excellent source of nectar and pollen.
Welsh poppies are yellow or orange in colour and bring a splash of colour to your garden and their papery petals attract bees. They have a long flowering period between March and November and produce a lot of pollen.
White Clover is very popular with bees and has a long blooming period. It produces one of the most common types of honey.
Yarrow flowers have great landing pads with their brightly coloured flat heads covered with tiny daisy flowers that bees adore.
Imagine how appealing your garden will be with so many delightful flowers. Meadowmat will provide you with a beautiful wildflower garden containing all these flowers and more and remove the need for you to buy multiple seed packets, spend time and effort cultivating your garden and essentially just hoping for the best. Opt for the tried and tested solution to provide a bee-dazzling haven for our precious little pollinators.