lavender and bee

The Great British Bee Count Bee identification guide

Around 270 species of bee have been recorded in Britain.

Here are some common - and more rare - bees featured on the Great British Bee Count app.

Illustrations by Chris Shields

Bumblebees

Banded white-tailed bumblebees

When to see them: March-November (sometimes year-round in the south).

Nesting habits: Old burrows and cavities.

ID tips: Distinctive yellow and black bands and a white tail.

Description: The classic stripy bumblebees. Several species of bumblebee have this colour pattern.

See our guide to the most common species of banded white-tailed bumblebees.

Early bumblebee

When to see them: March-June.

Nesting habits: Old burrows and cavities.

ID tips: Yellow and black bands and an orange tail. Small size. Males have yellow facial hair.

Description: The UK’s smallest bumblebee. Common in gardens and other areas with trees and bushes. The early bumblebee is a key pollinator of summer fruits such as raspberries.

Red-tailed black bumblebees

When to see them: April-November.

Nesting habits: Old burrows or tussocks.

ID tips: Black body and an orange tail. Male red-tailed bumblebees have a yellow ruff.

Description: Of the three species this colour, you are most likely to see the red-tailed bumblebee, but check for dark-winged red-tailed cuckoo bees which are nest parasites. 

See our guide to red-tailed black bumblebees.

Brown carder bees

When to see them: March-November.

Nesting habits: In tussocks.

ID tips: Varying shades of brown or ginger. Rear legs bare and shiny. Common carder bees have black hairs on their abdomen.

Description: The brown bumblebee you will most likely see is the common carder bee. All three like tubular flowers such as foxglove and deadnettles along with legume flowers including beans.

See our guide to brown carder bees.

Tree bumblebee

When to see them: March-July.

Nesting habits: Cavities above ground.

ID tips: Ginger thorax, black abdomen and a white tail. Black underside.

Description: This distinctive bumblebee first arrived in the UK in 2001. Your records can help us track its spread. As its name suggests it prefers to nest in trees, also using bird boxes and buildings.

Shrill carder bee

When to see them: May-September.

Nesting habits: In tussocks.

ID tips: Pale yellow and grey bands with a peachy tail.

Description: This is one of Britain’s rarest bumblebees. It is restricted to grasslands in southern England and Wales that are rich in its favoured legume flowers such as vetches, trefoils and clovers.

Honeybee

Honeybee

When to see them: March-October.

Nesting habits: Beehives or cavities above ground.

ID tips: Abdomen with amber bands or completely black. Buff-haired thorax. Rear legs bare and shiny.

Description: Most honeybees in the UK live in hives managed by beekeepers. Each hive can contain over 20,000 bees. Only worker honeybees make delicious honey, using nectar gathered from flowers.

Solitary bees

Hairy-footed flower bee

When to see them: March-June.

Nesting habits: Aerial or ground nester (banks, walls or bare ground).

ID tips: Females: Black with yellow legs. Males: Brown with a pale face and hair plumes on their middle legs.

Description: These bumblebee-lookalikes are amongst the earliest bees to emerge in spring. They dart rapidly between flowers and blossoms, particularly favouring lungwort, deadnettles and wallflowers.

Common mourning bee

When to see them: March-June.

Nesting habits: Bee nest parasite.

ID tips: Grey collar. White spots along abdomen. Sometimes all-black. Pointed rear.

Description: The common mourning bee is a ‘cuckoo bee’. She lays her eggs in the nests of hairy-footed flower bees, where the larvae eat the food stores gathered for the flower bee’s own young.

Wool carder bee

When to see them: May-July.

Nesting habits: Aerial nester including bee hotels.

ID tips: Yellow spots along abdomen. Males have prongs on their rear.

Description: Female wool carder bees gather balls of plant hairs to build their nest cells. Males guard hairy plants such as lamb’s-ear, fighting off other bees to ensure they get to mate with visiting females.

Leafcutter bees

When to see them: May-August.

Nesting habits: Aerial nesters including bee hotels.

ID tips: Broad head and body. Females have a brush of hairs under the abdomen.

Description: Found neat crescents cut from your rose bush? That's a sign that leafcutter bees are about. The female uses the leaves to line her chosen nest cavity and build snug cells for her young.

Red mason bee

When to see them: March-June.

Nesting habits: Aerial nester including bee hotels.

ID tips: Bristly orange hair with dark head and thorax showing through. Males have white face hairs. Female collects pollen under abdomen.

Description: A common resident of bee hotels and stone walls. Females gather mud to build their nest cells and are efficient pollinators of fruit-tree blossoms. Smaller males hover around nest sites.

Tawny mining bee

When to see them: March-June.

Nesting habits: Ground nester.

ID tips: Thick orange coat. Black leg and face hairs. Collects pollen on legs.

Description: This bee makes volcano-like mounds of soil at its nest entrance in lawns and mown banks. The bright orange females forage on spring blossoms.

Ashy mining bee

When to see them: March-June.

Nesting habits: Ground nester.

ID tips: Black with double ashy bands across the thorax.

Description: This monochrome mining bee often nests in large aggregations along sunny footpaths and short turf, though each female has her own nest. This bee is an important pollinator of oilseed rape.

Orange-tailed mining bee

When to see them: March-July.

Nesting habits: Ground nester.

ID tips: Rusty thorax. Black abdomen with tuft of rusty hairs on the rear. Yellow rear legs.

Description: The orange-tailed mining bee is common in many habitats, even in urban areas. They nest on grassy slopes and forage mainly from blossoming shrubs.

Long-horned bee

When to see them: May-August.

Nesting habits: Ground and cliff nester.

ID tips: Grey-brown hair. Males have very long antennae. Females have a white tail.

Description: The male long-horned bee has unmistakeable oversized antennae. This declining bee is reliant on open habitats rich in legume flowers such as vetches and trefoils with nearby earth banks for nesting.

Bee lookalikes

Social wasps

When to see them: April-September.

Nesting habits: In cavities or tree branches.

ID tips: Cone-shaped abdomen with yellow stripes. Builds a paper nest.

Description: Social wasps live in nests made out of chewed wood. Though often seen as pests, they are important for pollination and pest control. The workers hunt insects to feed the larvae and visit flowers for nectar.

Hoverflies

When to see them: March-November.

Nesting habits: None.

ID tips: Very varied. Large eyes which sometimes meet in the middle. Antennae short with few segments.

Description: Many of these harmless flies mimic bees and wasps to protect themselves from predators wary of being stung. There are even hairy hoverflies that mimic bumblebees. Like bees they are great pollinators.

Bee flies

When to see them: March-August.

Nesting habits: Bee nest parasite.

ID tips: Long proboscis. Short antennae. Hovers around flowers.

Description: Bee flies not only look like bees, they live with them. Females fling their eggs into solitary bee burrows where the larvae eat the pollen stores. The adult flies like deadnettle and primrose flowers.