Introduction to bees, wasps and ants

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Bees, wasps and ants belong to the Order Hymenoptera, (meaning membranous wings) and are the most advanced of all the insects. Here can be found all of the social insects except for termites. Most species of ant are social, as are some wasp and bee species, in other words numbers of them live and work together as a joint enterprise, directed by a single queen. Honey bees and bumblebees are examples.

There are also many species of solitary bee, however, laying their eggs in individual nests and never meeting their young, which hatch out later in the year or the following year. Many solitary bees forage or nest in gardens, including red mason bees and leafcutter bees.

Bees live on pollen and nectar that they collect from flowers, but wasps are meat-eaters, collecting caterpillars and grubs to eat themselves and feed to their young. The familiar yellow-and-black common wasps often found in gardens are social, building their nests out of wood scrapings chewed into a pulp, but as for bees there are also many solitary species, nesting in holes or crevices.

Honey bees are important from an economic point of view as pollinators of agricultural crops such as oilseed rape or field beans, but other bees are more important for wild flowers and for the health of the countryside, because they pollinate a wider range of plants.

Ants are everywhere in huge numbers, most noticeable when winged males and females emerge from underground nests and fly off to mate. The huge mounds made by wood ants, mainly found in ancient woods, are noticeable too.


© Tony Gunton

More information

For a good general guide but with little detail on each species: 'Collins Guide to the Insects of Britain and Eastern Europe'. 'Field Guide to the Bees of Great Britain and Ireland' by Steven Falk covers all the bees in great detail.