To the untrained eye, it’s easy to confuse bees and wasps. But, bumblebees should never be in doubt.
A wasp is any insect that is neither a bee nor ant. However, in terms of common understanding, we are dealing with just three species: the common wasp, German wasp, and the median wasp.
At the beginning of warmer weather, the young queens come out from hibernation and start the daunting task of nest building, mixing rotten wood with saliva to make ‘wasp paper’ with which to make the nest.
She will lay 15 – 20 eggs in cells inside the nest and tend these until the first workers emerge to take over the nest-building process.
Any reports of wasps’ nests prior to June, and certainly any in late April or May will always turn out to be a bee species of which there are many.
Wasp nest building continues throughout the summer and in the autumn the nest produces immature queens and males which then mate. A single wasps’ nest may produce over 2000 new queens.
The bee which makes the honey unsurprisingly is the honeybee (Apis mellifera) but a staggering number of people confuse the honeybee with the bumblebee (Bombus spp.)
The honeybee has an altogether different lifecycle to the wasp, the entire colony surviving the winter, and hence are seen much earlier in the year.
The honeybee is known for the way in which new colonies are built. In late spring and throughout the summer the colony will produce new queens which split or ‘bud’ from the old colony taking several thousand worker bees with them; these are called swarms and can actually be heard in flight.
This causes alarm in many people who will then ring a pest control company and declare that a ‘wasps’ nest’ has just arrived.
Clearly we know immediately that we are dealing with a bee swarm and can often point them in the direction of a beekeeper who may be able to remove the swarm unharmed.
Frequently, they establish a colony or ‘hive’ in a chimney stack and where this is venting a gas fire this is clearly dangerous and it is often necessary to destroy the colony.
After destroying the colony the owner of the property has a legal and moral duty to have any honeycomb removed from the stack as if it is left in place it will be taken out by wild or commercial hive bees, causing the death of those colonies.
A responsible pest controller will not destroy a colony unless arrangements to remove the honeycomb are in place.
The bumblebee has a lifecycle similar to a wasp in that only the new queens survive the winter and start new nests in spring. A bumblebees’ nest is an insignificant affair, now where near as intricate as a wasps’ nest and rarely contains more than 300 workers at most.
Whereas a honeybee colony or wasps’ nest may have upwards of ten thousand inhabitants.