FAQ's

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Q: There is a swarm of bees in my garden. What should I do? 

Q: What should I do if I am stung by a bee? 

Q: Are the honey bees really disappearing?

Q: I have seen little mounds of earth and small bees tunnelling in my garden lawn. What are they?

Q: I have seen lots of very small bees flying together close to the ground. What are they? 

Q: Are honey bees the only bees important for pollination? 

Q: I have heard that solitary bees and bumble bees are good pollinators for my garden. How can I encourage them to nest in my garden? 

Q: I have seen small bees making holes in my wall. Should I worry? 

Q: Do solitary bees sting?                                        

Q: Do bumble bees make honey? 

Q: Honey bees die after stinging, do bumble bees die also? 

Q: What are cuckoo bumble bees? 

Q: I saw a large bumble bee covered with tiny brown things. What are they and do they harm the bee?
 
Q: How many species of bumble bee are there?
 
Q: When did we start keeping bees for honey?
 
Q: How many species of bee are there in the world?
 
Q: How many honey bees are there in a colony?
 
Q: How far does a honey bee fly to get food?
 
Q: I have a honey bee nest in my cavity wall. What can I do about it?
 
Q: How long does a honey bee live?
 
Q: Do bees fly at night?
 
Q: Do some bees only pollinate certain plants?
 
Q: Can bees see in colour?
 
Q: I have heard that honey and other bee products are good for our health. Is this true?
 

Q: There is a swarm of bees in my garden. What should I do?
A: Swarming bees look spectacular, but they are usually not aggressive. However, it is best to keep children and pets safely indoors. Do not try to scare the bees away by waving your arms wildly at them or throwing water at them as this is liable to aggravate them. Swarms that have settled in the open, for example in a bush or hanging from a branch, usually move off to a permanent site within a few hours. If the bees are easily accessible, a local beekeeper may be willing to remove the swarm. A search on the internet can often locate a telephone number of a local beekeeping association and they may be able to tell you how to contact a local beekeeper, or the British Beekeeping Association may be able to help. You could also contact your local Council to recommend someone who can deal with swarms. IBRA is a publishing house and does not have the capacity to deal with live bees.

Q: What should I do if I am stung by a bee?
A: Honey bees leave their sting behind in your skin and this continues to pump venom into you for a few minutes. You should therefore scrape it off straight away with something with a straight edge. You may have to improvise, but this can be done with a long fingernail, a blunt knife, or even the edge of a credit card. If the sting is on or near your hands, remove any rings straight away in case of swelling. Stings hurt for a wBook: Insect bites and stingshile and may itch for a few days, but usually there are no serious effects. However, some people can be severely affected, so if you have any symptoms away from the site of the sting or are concerned, particularly if you are having difficulty breathing, seek medical advice straight away. 
A small booklet with advice on how to prevent and treat insect bites and stings, which could be invaluable in an emergency, is available from our online shop.

Q: Are the honey bees really disappearing?
A:Yes! It is widely reported that beekeepers around the world are experiencing a loss in theWhat's happening to our bees leafletir bee colonies. Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), has been a term frequently used and is characterised by the disappearance of adult honey bees. However, there are a number of reasons why the honey bees have been declining. The Varroa mite and viruses it carries, bad weather, the use of chemical pesticides are just a few reasons. Scientists are still trying to find an answer. Click here for a free information leaflet.

Q: I have seen little mounds of earth and small bees tunnelling in my garden lawn. What are they?
A: These are most likely to be solitary mining bees. There are many species of mining bee throughout the world. In Europe and North America, the commonest ones belong to the genus Andrena, in the UK and Europe they could be Andrena fulva, or in the USA A. erythronii. Every spring the females excavate tunnels as nests in which they lay eggs. Each egg is laid in a cell and is provisioned with a ball of pollen mixed with nectar. At the top of the tunnel, there is a mound of excavated soil, somewhat like a worm cast, and sometimes you can see the females sitting on the mound sunning themselves. These bees will not harm you and help pollination.
Click here for a free down load offering more information on all types of Solitary Bee.

Q: I have seen lots of very small bees flying together close to the ground. What are they?
A: These are most likely to be solitary mining bees. Every spring, the males congregate together in the hope of attracting females. There are many species of mining bee throughout the world. In Europe and North America, the commonest ones belong to the genus Andrena, e.g. in the UK and Europe they could be Andrena armata, or in the USA A. erythronii.

Q: Are honey bees the only bees important for pollination?
A: No. There are many other bees and insects that are important for pollinating our orchards and crops, e.g. bumble bees (Bombus spp.) and solitary bees. There are over 25, 000 different species of bee in the world and many of them are under threat. In the UK, of the 254 species of wild bee (solitary and bumble bees), 25% are in the Red Data Book of endangered species. About 80% of the food on the supermarket shelves is there because bees have pollinated crops -- without bees we would starve!

Q: I have heard that solitary bees and bumble bees are good pollinators for my garden. How can I encourage them to nest in my garden?
A: Just as you put out nest boxes for birds, you can put out nest boxes for bees. Many species of solitary bee live in tunnels in old wood or in the hollowed out stems of plants.
Here is a selection of nest boxes that we sell in our online bookshop.

Bug boxsolitary beehivebumble bee nester
Bug boxSolitary Bee hiveBumble Bee Nester

Ideally these boxes should be placed in a sunny spot, and the bug box for example can be hung at eye-level, (e.g. under the eaves of a garden shed is ideal). Planting flowers to attract bees will also help, for instants early flowering heather and flowering currant, lavender, sage, catmint, stonecrop, toadflax and fruit trees. Weeds are good for bees too (dandelion, daisy, deadnettle).
Book: Making nests for Bumble Bees
You could also try making your own nestboxes for bumble bees. A small book explaining how to make bumble bee nest boxes is available from our online shop. Bumble bees often nest underground in old mouse nests or compost heaps.

 

Q: I have seen small bees making holes in my wall. Should I worry?
A: These are solitary bees and it depends on the species of bee whether they will damage your wall. Most mason bees (e.g. Osmia rufa) nest in pre-existing cavities and do not harm the walls. However, there are 'true' masonry bees, e.g. Colletes daviesanus, that tunnel into soft mortar and can do damage, especially in old walls. If you have bees in your wall you could tempt them away from the wall by putting out artificial nests for them - they oftenLeaflet: A guide to Solitary bees in the garden prefer these nice clean tubes. For more information on solitary bees, see our guide below.

Q: Do solitary bees sting?
A: Like almost all female bees, solitary bees do have a sting, but they are
not aggressive and are very unlikely to sting unless you handle them very roughly. Honey bees have a large store of honey to protect, which is why they sting to defend their homes; solitary bees do not have these stores.

Q: Do bumble bees make honey?
A: Yes, but not as much as honey bees and not in collectable quantities. Bumble bees have annual colonies, a queen starting afresh each spring, so there is no need for them to store large amounts of honey over winter.
Click here for a free information leaflet on Bumble BeesBumble Bee Leaflet

Q: Honey bees die after stinging, do bumble bees die also?
A: No. Honey bee workers (non-reproducing females) have barbs on the sting that get stuck in the victim's skin. As the bee struggles to free itself, the sting and venom sac are pulled out of the bee, resulting in death. Bumble bees do not have barbed stings and can sting many times if they want to. However, bumble bees are not aggressive and only sting if provoked.

Q: What are cuckoo bumble bees?
A: Just like cuckoo birds, bumble bees have cuckoo bees that look very similar to bumble bees and take over their nests. Cuckoo bumble bees are a subgenus of Bombus (true bumble bees) of the species Psithyrus. In some species the psithyrus female cohabits with the true bumblebee queen, but in other the host queen is killed by the psithyrus female.
When a psithyrus female enters the bumble bee nest, she hides in the nest material for several hours until she picks up the nest smell and is accepted by the bumble bees when she emerges from hiding. The Psithyrus bee follows the bumble bee queen around eating any eggs she lays, before laying her own eggs.


Q: I saw a large bumble bee covered with mites or parasites. What are they and do they harm the bee?
A: In early spring, queen bumble bees are often seen with large numbers of mites (Parasitellus fucorum). These mites live on the queen when she hibernates over winter and stay with her until she founds her new nest in spring. Here they scavenge on food debris, bee faeces and possibly stored pollen. Some mites drop off the queen when she is foraging on a flower to wait for another bumble bee to hitch a ride to a nest. The mite does not actually feed on the bee itself, and so apart from the extra load carried by the bee, it does no harm. Bumble bees are parasitized by other mites that suck their haemolymph (blood) and nematode worms that do harm the bees.Bombus pascuorum

Q: How many species of bumble bee are there?
A: Bumble bees are temperate climate insects and there are about 300 species in the temperate zones of the world. The UK had 25 species but 3 are already extinct and many more are threatened. Bumble bees, like many species, are under threat because of changes in farming practices, pesticides and destruction of their nest sites. These insects are important pollinators and should be conserved. In the UK, of the 254 species of wild bee (solitary and bumble bees), 25% are in the Red Data Book of endangered species.

Q: When did we start keeping bees for honey?
A: The first record of humans harvesting honey from bees dates back to 6000 BC. In these early days (and in some parts of the world still today), humans were honey hunters -- harvesting honey from wild nests -- not beekeepers.

Q: How many species of bee are there in the world?
A: There are over 25 000 different species of bee in the world and many of them are under threat. In the UK, of the 254 species of wild bee (solitary and bumble bees), 25% are in the Red Data Book of endangered species. About 80% of the food on the supermarket shelves is there because bees have pollinated crops -- without bees we would starve!Honey Bees Leaflet

Q: How many honey bees are there in a colony?
A: At the height of the season an average sized colony can contain 50, 000 bees.
Click here for our free information leaflet about Honey bees.

Q: How far does a honey bee fly to get food?
A: Honey bee foragers commonly fly up to four miles (6.5 km) to collect nectar and pollen from flowers, and can potentially cover 50 000 acres (20 000 hectares). It is estimated that it takes 10 million foraging trips to make the equivalent of one jar of honey (1lb or 454 g).

Q: I have a honey bee nest in my cavity wall. What can I do about it?
A: The bees won't do any harm to your walls, so if they are not causing problems leave them alone and enjoy your new neighbours. However, if they are a nuisance you may have to get rid of them. It is not easy to get them out -- spraying with insecticide is unlikely to kill them all and any remaining wax comb should be removed or it will attract other pest insects.

Q: How long does a honey bee live?
A: This depends on the time of year and the caste (worker, drone or queen) of bee. During the summer when foragers are working hard, their lifespan can be just a few weeks. Workers emerging (hatching) at the end of the summer will overwinter in the hive and can live several months into the next season. The drones only have a short lifespan as once they are no longer needed for mating with queens, they are evicted from the hive and die soon after as they can't feed themselves. Queens live much longer, 2 or 3 years, but beekeepers usually only keep their queens for one or two years - the period when they are laying most eggs.

Q: Do bees fly at night?
A: Not usually, especially in temperate zones as it is too cold. Bees are 'cold blooded' (poikilothermic = they do not maintain a constant body temperature; it varies with external conditions) and need to be warm for their flight muscles to work. Some tropical bees have been reported to fly at night.

Q: Do some bees only pollinate certain plants?
A: Yes. Some plants, e.g. orchids, are very specialized and are only pollinated by one species of insect. Some plants, e.g. tomatoes, are better pollinated by bumble bees than honey bees, because they have longer tongues and also are adept at 'buzz' pollination where the bee vibrates its body to shake pollen from the anthers.

Q: Can bees see in colour?Book: Form and Function
A: Yes. Bees see mostly the same colours we do, except at the red end of the spectrum - bees can't see red as a colour. But they can see more at the other end of the spectrum and can see UV as a colour. This is often called 'bee purple', but we really don't know what this colour is like. When you look at a white flower, the petals just look white. But, when a bee looks at a white flower it also sees lines that guide it down to the nectar - these lines reflect UV light and are invisible to us, but to the bee they are 'bee purple'.
Our publication Form and Function of the Honey Bee, will answer all your questions about honey bee anatomy.

Q: I have heard that honey and other bee products are good for our health. Is this true?
A: Yes. The antibacterial activity of honey is well established and is becoming recognized - again - as a useful wound dressing for ulcers and burns, promoting tissue regrowth and attacking deep-seateJournal of ApiProduct and ApiMedical Scienced infections. It is also effective against the bacteria Helicobacter pylori that cause stomach ulcers. Propolis (bee glue) is a substance made by the bees from tree resins and wax. It contains phenols and flavonoids that have antibacterial properties. Some popular propolis products are mouth-washes and sore throat pastels. (Caution: some people are allergic to propolis). Two other bee products are pollen and royal jelly - the health giving properties of these are less well documented in the scientific literature. Lastly bee venom/sting therapy is gaining popularity for many health problems such as arthritis and MS, however caution should be taken as it has not been proven to be effective and people can suffer an allergic reaction. An informative CD on this subject, called Honey and Healing  is available from our online shop.
The latest research on the therapeutic properties of hive products can be found in the Journal of ApiProduct and ApiMedical Science.

Bee Trivia

  • To produce a single jar of honey, foraging honey bees have to travel the equivalent of three times around the world.
  • If you remove a queen honey bee from her hive, within 15 minutes all the bees in the hive know about it.
  • The average weight of a honey bee (Apis mellifera) pollen load is 10-13 mg.
  • Beehives have been kept on the roof of the Bank of England and the roof of the Opera House, Paris, France. 
  • Cotton soaked in honey and lemon juice has been used as a contraceptive in Egypt for 2000 years. 
  • After the human race, the honey bee is probably the most studied creature. For nearly 60 years, IBRA has gathered information on bees that is used by scientists and beekeepers all over the world. Its knowledge base is unique and it publishes some of the world's leading journals and books this specialist field.