There are around 20,000 described bee species worldwide. Most people are familiar with honey bees and bumblebees, but look closely and there are smaller furry bees moving from flower to flower. 

Most of these bees are known as solitary bees with only 250 bumblebee species, 9 honey bee species and a number of social stingless bees worldwide. There are around 270 species of bee in Britain, 250 of which are solitary bees. These bees can be amazingly effective pollinators and as the name suggests tend not to live in colonies like bumblebees and honey bees.

Solitary bees in Britain are highly diverse. Therefore, so are their nesting habits. The majority of British species nest in the ground, excavating their own nest. The female builds the nest by herself. She chooses a suitable piece of ground in which to nest and uses her body to dig out a nesting chamber in the ground. She adds pollen to the chamber, which is often moistened with nectar, and lays an egg. She then seals off that section of the nest before moving onto the next chamber. Although most solitary bees nest solitarily, in suitable nest sites you often find aggregations of nests. There are also a number of species in Britain that nest in the ground but create turrets over their nests, these are often very distinctive.

A number of species also nest aerially, usually in old beetle holes often sealing the nests with a saliva like substance, mud, chewed leaves, resin or sections of leaves which they cut with their jaws. These species are the ones most likely to take to artificial nests in gardens.

Finally there are the snail shell nesting bees, of which we have three species in Britain. They use chewed up leaves to seal off each section in the empty nest shells and often camouflage the shell in some way.

Not all bees collect pollen, around a quarter of British solitary bees are brood parasites or cuckoo bees. These bees have no pollen collecting apparatus, relying on the pollen of their hosts to provide for their offspring. These cuckoo bees search out the nests of their hosts and lay an egg in their nests. Either the young or the adult kills the hosts offspring and the larvae then eat the pollen in the nest. The larvae can directly kill the host larva or indirectly by eating the pollen, therefore starving the host larva to death. These cuckoo bees are often much rarer than their hosts and are highly adapted for their parasitic lifestyle. 

There are many more bee species, solitary or otherwise. To find out more about our precious pollinators visit the Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust website:

10 Facts about Bees

  • 1. Solitary bees are important pollinators and a gardener’s friend. Help them by building a bee hotel for your home or garden and watch them buzz happily about their business. For more detailed instructions visit Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust website visit: 
  • 2. The small metallic blue carpenter bee excavates its own aerial nest, usually in bramble stems. It excavates out the pith of the bramble stem and nests in there. 
  • 3. The solitary cuckoo bee is often brightly coloured, resembling wasps. This is because it often hangs around the nests of their hosts and have this warning colouration to protect themselves from predators. 
  • 4. The cuckoo bee is highly specialised and co-evolved with their hosts to require the same amount of pollen, and in some cases pollen from the same species of plant, to develop and fly at the same time.
  • 5. Some of the most common solitary bees include the early mining, tawny mining and hairy-footed flower bee. 
  • 6. The female early mining bee is very small and can be identified by a dark red tip on their abdomen plus a covering of foxy hairs on their back.
  • 7. The tawny mining bee is covered in ginger fur. Females collect pollen and nectar for their larvae which develop in her underground chamber and then spend winter as a pupa. 
  • 8. The flower bee genus comprises of five species in Britain and are often mistaken for bumblebees as they look fairly chunky. They have long tongues to reach into deep flowers. 
  • 9. As the name suggests, the male hairy-footed flower bee do indeed have very hairy little feet. It is also incredibly territorial and will protect their own small patch of flowers.  
  • 10. The male hairy-footed flower bee is a beautiful sandy colour while the females are completely black.