Thursday, 24 July 2014

Bee identification

I received the following comment from Becky in a previous post.

Hi. Could you recomend a book or website to get me started on identifying bees. I have lots of visitors to my garden, but not sure what they are. Many thanks. Becky

Whilst some bees are easy to identify - such as the tree bumblebee, with it's brown thorax and white tipped abdomen:
However, most of the times it is  fraught with difficulties - males and females  of the same species often look completely different and even older worker bees can look different to their younger sisters.

I am not an expert in bee identification, but I though the subject warranted a post in it's own right.

For bumblebees, the first point of call is this excellent identification chart from the Bumblebee Conservation Trust, it has large, clear pictures with text  and showing queens, workers and is available on-line as a PDF:

(C) Bumblebee Conservation Trust

A more detailed guide is The Field Guide to Bumblebees of Great Britain and Ireland by Martin Edwards and Martin Jenner:

It contains a very good identification guide where different abdomens and thorax can be matched together.
It's main drawback is that it doesn't use common names, so whilst it can be used to identify Bombus Terrestris, it takes an internet search to find out it is a buff tailed bumblebee.

Solitary Bees Whilst bumblebee identification is hard enough, trying to identify the any of the 200 solitary bees found in the UK is even harder.

The most common are found in the informative Collins guide to British Insects:

Another source of information is the the excellent Guide to Garden Wildlife, by the local artist Richard Lewington ( which features drawings rather than photographs, making identification somewhat easier.


The internet is a great source of identification and the forums on Wild About Britain ( are always a friendly place to ask for identification.

And the bumblebee conservation trust has launched Bee Watch:


Apps are now replacing books on as field guides and the art work of Richard Lewington can be found on Nature Guides Bumblebees of Britain and Ireland, as of yet, it is only available on iOS:

Hopefully Becky, you've found this useful

1 comment:

  1. Hello! Thank you very much for all of the material, it is very kind of you to take the time to share it. I hadn't even noticed that bees had different colour tips until I read your last post and then found one with a white tip in my garden the next day. I'll get out there at the weekend and see what I can find. Thanks again. Becky